Diving into London Brew: A British jazz meditation on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew

Written By: 
Randall Roberts
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The jazz supergroup features Benji B, Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings, and more.

The new double album London Brew was originally slated to be a 50th anniversary ode to Bitches Brew, Miles Davis’ jazz-rock 1970 masterwork. Then the virus hit, making a live concert impossible. The event’s cancellation forced the involved dozen players, a who’s who of contemporary British jazz including members of the Comet is Coming, Sons of Kemet, the Smile, Heliocentrics, the Invisible, and others, to flex a creative muscle they’d spent their entire lives building. They improvised.

Converging at the end of 2020 at Paul Epworth’s the Church Studios in London, the London Brew crew didn’t set out to make a tribute album in the commonly known sense: the band doesn’t play any Davis compositions, and if there are melodic quotes from the original record they’re tough to spot. The rhythms, though, riff on beats that Bitches Brew drummers Don Alias and Jack DeJohnette made, and the spirit of legendary players Wayne Shorter, Bennie Maupin, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, and others permeates the London session.




“For me, that’s what Bitches Brew is. It’s a bunch of musicians making music because of the love of making music, as a social force and as a social construct,” Shabaka Hutchings (the Comet is Coming, Sons of Kemet) said in release notes. “They are creating something that expresses unity and motion. That’s what it is to be alive… you know, you have unity, you have motion, and you have vibration. You don’t get any more alive than that. That’s Bitches Brew.”

The key words are motion and vibration, the combo of which propel London Brew in wildly labyrinthine directions. The eponymous first piece runs nearly 30-minutes, a kind of out-of-the-gate statement of purpose in which each of the dozen players swap phrases and join forces at key moments for grand unifications. Double-drummers Skinner and Dan See go particularly hard.

That’s especially true in “Miles Chases New Voodoo in the Church,” a kind of response to the Davis composition “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” Played at proper volume, the second half of this wondrous 7-minute track veers into a kind of groove-abyss, swirling around a psychedelic, reverb-infused rhythm woven with midrange synthetics and horn-heavy melodies and arrangements. To hear Hutchings and Nubya Garcia absorb and respond to each others’ saxophone runs offers a lesson in the power of the collaborative mind-meld. (Hutchings will be playing at the Hollywood Bowl this summer at the request of the late Pharoah Sanders in ‘Promises Live, a full performance of Floating Points and Sanders’ 2021 album).

Recalled the brilliant saxophonist Garcia of the three-day session’s timing –– during the darkest, most isolating days of the pandemic. “We were all so excited to make music together again during that time of lockdown. This session was special in so many ways,” she added. “We poured all of it into the music.”

London Brew:
Benji B: Decks, Sonic Re-cycling
Raven Bush: Violin, Electronics
Theon Cross: Tuba
Nubya Garcia: Saxophone, Flute
Tom Herbert: Electric Bass, Double Bass
Shabaka Hutchings: Saxophone, Woodwinds
Nikolaj Torp Larsen: Synthesizers, Melodica
Dave Okumu: Guitar
Nick Ramm: Piano, Synthesizers
Dan See: Drums, Percussion
Tom Skinner: Drums, Percussion
Martin Terefe: Guitar, Electronics

The vinyl version comes in a gatefold sleeve, and its double-LP presentation allows for each side to breathe. Which is to say, deep grooves, deep bass, clear mids and a quality mastering job. It’s also available as a 2-CD set.

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