Wednesday, July 19, 2006

miles ahead - part two

This is the second in an irregular series of posts about the late great Miles Davis. These posts aren't an attempt to relate his entire career or offer a comprehensive look at his life; rather they're a personal journey through some of the CDs and vinyl I own and my feelings about them. Part one can be found here.

I know that by starting this little series of posts with Miles' collaborations with Gil Evans that I missed a whole chunk of great jazz that he made with small bands so here are a couple of my absolute favourites, taken from 1958s Milestones.

Milestones is a great example of the up-tempo hard-bop style that Miles was playing at the point immediately before Kind Of Blue the following year. The rhythm section on the album is incredible throughout - Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). But what I love about it is how each of the horn players has such a unique voice - Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Miles himself.

Miles Davis - Straight, No Chaser

You can really hear it on this version of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" (which reminds me, I should really do a Monk post sometime...). Cannonball Adderley sounds like a bloke you'd like to go for a drink with, ebullient and vivacious, good humoured (from 0:31); Miles Davis is someone you'd need to watch yourself around, kind of reserved, stand-offish, urbane and "cool" (from 1:51); John Coltrane is incredibly intense, already swallowing endless notes, heading towards his trademark "sheets-of-sound", more abstract and aggressive than the other soloists (from 3:59). It's really psychologically fascinating! And besides all of that, I love the weird syncopation and angular phrasing that Monk has applied to the tune - it makes you forget that it's basically just a 12-bar blues.

Miles Davis - Milestones

This track is why the album is usually referred to as "transitional" (like a lot of Miles Davis albums!). There are no chords in this piece, the players just had two scales that they had to play over once the theme has been stated; scale A, scale B, scale A, repeat! There's no harmonic motion, so the players have to be inventive melodically - and again you hear the individual voices coming out when the horn players solo, probably even more so because they've got no chords to play against. Genius but simple!

Next time, we enter the heart of darkness with live recordings from The Plugged Nickel, 1965!

Buy - Milestones
Visit - Miles Davis (wikipedia)


Dan Johnson
Hi Steve. I've much enjoyed reading your Miles posts. Have you got the Monk/Coltrane Carnegie Hall concert that they uncovered recently? It's an incredible document of the beginning of the 'sheets of sound' style. Keep it up! 

No comments: