Friday, September 15, 2006

miles ahead - part three

This is the third in a series of posts about the late great Miles Davis. Part one is here, part two is here.

These recordings are very hard to write about and exceptionally hard to blog about. This is a track from the legendary live recordings Miles Davis's second great quintet made at The Plugged Nickel in December 1965 - Miles, Herbie Hancock [piano], Ron Carter [bass], Tony Williams {drums] and Wayne Shorter [tenor sax].

As far as modern jazz is concerned, the Plugged Nickel sets are The Bible, Ulysses and Wagner's Ring Cycle all rolled into one.

Over the space of two nights, Miles and chums blast through 7 sets of mostly 'standards', stuff that had been in the Miles Davis live repertoire for years. But the way they treat tunes like "My Funny Valentine", "When I Fall In Love", as well as Davis' own material, the source material is pretty much irrelevant. Over the course of two nights they rip the tunes apart, taking serious liberties with structure, harmony and time - it's amazing music which demands you listen intently to the frightening level of intuition that is going on between the players - scary stuff.

The reason it's hard to write about is because, by ripping a single track (albeit one that's just shy of 14 minutes long) and compressing it down, you lose so much of what makes these recordings great.

Miles Davis - So What (live at The Plugged Nickel, 23 December 1965)

Take "So What" for example. This track comes at the end of the second set on 23 December - after this incredible performance, they still had another TWO SETS to play, following on from the three they played the previous night.

What's amazing about hearing it in context is how the tension between the different players is built up throughout the set, finally being released in the railing crescendo behind Shorter's solo (3.45-8.35) and carried through Tony Williams amazing extended solo (8.58-11.27). Counted in at almost twice the speed, it's about as far removed from the studio version of "So What" (on 'Kind Of Blue') as you could imagine. "Cool Jazz" this is not - by the way, you really need to play this loud!

I dunno if I'm reading too much into this but this track sounds like the end of something - a way of working, a way of thinking about music. A couple of years later Miles was going electric and turning his back on the small band format.

Whatever - The Plugged Nickel sets are well worth investing in. They're great recordings, really capturing the atmosphere of the night - at various points you hear a phone ring, the cash register, people chatting.

"So What" is available on a single CD of highlights but I was lucky enough to pick up the complete set for next to nothing. Sad but true, one year I fully intend to have a two-night Plugged Nickel party - play the sets in their entirety, soup to nuts.

Who wants a Martini?

Buy - The Complete Live at The Plugged Nickel
Buy - Highlights from the Plugged Nickel
Visit - Miles Davis (wikipedia)

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