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Thought to be just a rumor for nearly fifty years, some digging into the Columbia vaults has uncovered the legendary sessions for Betty Davis’ unreleased first album, produced by then-husband Miles Davis and featuring musicians from his and Jimi Hendrix’s bands, alongside some earlier recordings made with her previous beau, Hugh Masekela.
Primarily focusing on the May 1969 sessions with Miles Davis and Teo Macero, The Columbia Years offers some rough, but strikingly rich performances that were so far ahead of their time, the record labels wouldn’t release them (and Miles feared she would become more famous than him). These truly ground-breaking recordings, blended funk with psychedelic rock, soul and jazz for a fusion that was yet to appear on the scene. John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Larry Young and Harvey Brooks met Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox for the first time and bashed out some of the most incredible music of their respective careers. Betty’s originals nod to Stax, James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, while Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” becomes an astonishing meld of Otis Redding and later Hendrix. Cream’s “Politician” (as “Politician Man”) wholly transforms into something heavier, sexier and more psychotic than the original could ever hope to be. Later, the Masekela sessions, which feature members of The Crusaders, come across as more pop with strong Motown leanings, though the vocalist’s passion and creativity shine throughout her compositions. It’s an incredible document that needs to be heard by anybody who ever cared about any of the players involved.
Betty Davis was the real thing. Before this, she recorded for Don Costa’s label, DCP, and wrote songs for The Chambers Brothers and The Commodores. After, she released her own seminal funk albums before accepting a life of obscurity. This was just a moment, but what an amazing one…
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