Venus in Aries: Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew

May 15, 2017

Album cover designed by Mati Karwein.

Album cover designed by Mati Karwein.

In the early spring of 1970, jazz fans were only talking about one album — a rich, textured blast of sound played with freestyle mastery and driven by an enormous rhythm section. Miles Davis, the prince of cool, had plugged in and gone electric.

Not only was Davis’ use of electrical instruments an innovation on Bitches Brew, so was his use of post-production techniques in the studio. The double album was recorded over three short days in August 1969, but Davis went on to edit, layer, insert and resplice in the studio for months with his producer Teo Macero.

The result was a chef d’oeuvre that spawned a new genre — “fusion”, and influenced musicians of every category. Bitches Brew is demanding, clever, daring; stretching music to go higher, wider, deeper, stranger. It’s music that makes your cerebellum hum and your synapses sizzle.

For Davis, Bitches Brew was the result of a mid-life crisis. At 41, he was at the top of the jazz tree, but his cool jazz sound was dated, and according to his autobiography he was feeling a bit stale. It was a much younger woman who would show him how to move forward musically.

Miles Davis (info from astrodatabank) and the date the album was released

Miles Davis (info from astrodatabank) and the date the album was released

Betty Mabry was smart, beautiful, stunningly talented, and young  — and she opened Davis’ ears to a whole new world of African-American sounds: Motown, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix. He had been in his jazz world, and the changes out in the land of pop had passed him by.

When Davis met Mabry in late 1967, he was just coming up to the Uranus Half-Return, the classic mid-life crisis transit. Appropriately for what was to come on Bitches Brew, Uranus is the planet of electricity too.

Mabry was the spark that relit Davis’ creative fire in 1967 when they first met, and helped him invent yet another form of jazz. With that Venus in pioneering Aries, Davis had never been satisfied with resting on his laurels. He liked to be in the vanguard. Before Bitches Brew, he had already been an innovator with bebop, hard bop and cool jazz.

Interestingly, a few months before recording the album in 1969, Davis experience a similar Venus Retrograde to the one we had this year. It was through Aries and right across his own Venus. No wonder he changed his artistic direction. When Venus turned direct in April that year, he must have been ready to start something new.

Bitches Brew was released in March 1970 a few days after Davis’ Venus Return. Neptune — planet music — had just gone into Sagittarius: music was just about to get super-amplified, bands were about to get grandiose and play to whole stadiums. Davis was back on trend. Bitches Brew would turn out to be the biggest selling jazz album ever — and Davis would spend the 1970s fusing rock and jazz to ever bigger audiences — a long way from the smoke-filled nightclubs of the 1950s and 60s.

Although Davis’ marriage to Betty was short-lived, he always acknowledged her influence on him. She was his Venus in Aries embodied — sending him off in a new direction. Like Elaine de Kooning who married another man with Venus in Aries, Mabry was an artist in her own right. Maybe she didn’t want to sit around being someone else’s muse.

To listen to Betty’s own scorching, dirty funk, click here. To listen to Bitches Brew, click here. For more on this, read The Guardian here.

 

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Aries, music, musicians, Uncategorized, Venus, Venus in Art, Venus retrograde

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