Wednesday, July 05, 2006

miles ahead - part one

In a frankly atypical effort to create continuity on the Rally, I'm planning an irregular series of posts about the late great Miles Davis. Long time readers will know how much I *heart* him. This year, Miles (as I feel I can call him) would have been 80 and Sony/Columbia are planning some major reissues. This stuff has been reissued and repackaged many times before. I own a lot of the 20/24-bit remastered CDs - what are they going to do next? Create a CD that takes you out to dinner as well? How clean can sound get?! Having said all that, I'll no doubt be parting with some cash to fill the holes in my collection.

These posts won't attempt to relate his entire career or offer a comprehensive look at his life; rather they'll be an entirely personal journey through some of the CDs and vinyl I own and my feelings about them. Hopefully they'll feature something that's new to you for you to look out for when the reissues start coming out.

Miles Davis (orchestration by Gil Evans) - My Ship

Miles Ahead from 1957 was the first collaboration between Miles and legendary arranger Gil Evans since the Birth Of The Cool recordings of the late 40s-early 50s. Similar to the earlier sessions, these were formally notated jazz compositions, rather than group improvisation. The only improvising player was Miles Davis.

Miles worked with Gil to create the score, so he knew the contexts in which he would be soloing. Similarly, because of their previous relationship, Gil knew how to create backgrounds that would support Miles' solos best.

Miles used the flugelhorn throughout the recording and it really emphasised the beautiful singing quality of his playing. Gil Evans' orchestration is amazing, too - every chord has something beautiful happening inside; totally unique combinations of different registers, sounds and notes. My Ship is my favourite from this "concerto for improvising soloist" - the brilliant (in the true sense of the word) orchestration brings out the soul of Miles' playing. The section at 3.40, when it almost resembles the playing of a colliery brass band, makes my head and heart go all funny every single time. Amazing stuff.

Miles Davis (orchestration by Gil Evans) - Summertime

The next time they worked together was the following year when they turned the songs from Gershwin's Porgy And Bess into a purely orchestral score. This time Miles was more up front and centre; as Ian Carr (Davis' biographer) said, the sound is more like the call and response of a preacher to his congregation.

Summertime is Desert Island Discs time - if I had to listen to a single piece of music for the rest of my life, this would be it. Anyone who thinks jazz is abstract, unemotional and impersonal should listen to this and tell me that it doesn't sound magical and incredibly human.

Buy - Miles Ahead
Buy - Porgy And Bess
Visit - Miles Davis (wikipedia)
Visit - Gil Evans (wikipedia)



first time here. thanks for the lovely post. i'm slowly working my way to buying more of miles music.

Dan Johnson
Right on the money there. My own preference from those sessions is "New Rhumba" (as well as all the others really)
The little riff the orchestra ends up playing is incredible. How Evans structures this with lots of repeats but never becoming boring is a great gift.
Top stuff!

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