Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew recently got me to reconsider my perceptions of jazz. I heard it for the first time a few months ago when we were in San Diego and walked into FeeLIT to find Markalan playing it on the turntable. I knew immediately I had to hear more. I found a used copy later in the trip at Port of Sounds and was blown away by how good it was.
Jazz has always sounded disjointed and chaotic to my untrained ear… but Miles Davis… this is what I always envisioned (is it envisioned if you’re thinking about what something sounds like? “Enheard” does seem right somehow…) jazz is supposed to sound like. Loosely structured music that carries a more or less identifiable flow, with instruments sometimes moving into the forefront to convey emotion and take the whole thing into a specific direction. And that’s what Miles Davis does in Kind of Blue.
Davis’ backing band is exceptional, but let’s be honest – when you’re playing with Miles Davis, everything you do is to create the foundation for him to explore with his trumpet. I’m convinced that if you took the trumpet parts out of Kind of Blue you’d still be left with a very good jazz album; but with Miles’ trumpet it doesn’t just go to the next level – it moves way beyond that. But it’s not about craziness and energy and high tempo and pushing boundaries. His playing is more subtle. It flows. It works within the framework of the song, pushing at it’s boundaries but not simply bursting through and outside of it. The piano work by Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans is frankly superb, and Davis doesn’t have a problem letting them wander into the song when there are breaks in his playing, allowing the piano to take the lead for a bit and re-establish the mood.
I just now read the liner notes written by pianist Bill Evans and was surprised to see the word “framework” there as well – I swear I hadn’t read them before typing the above paragraphs! Here’s what Evans says about the Kind of Blue sessions:
Miles Davis presents here frameworks which are exquisite
in their simplicity and yet contain all that is necessary to
stimulate performance with a sure reference to the primary
Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording
dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what
was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to
pure spontaneity in these performances. The group had never
played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without
exception the first complete performance of each was a “take”.
Wow. That is truly amazing to think that Kind of Blue was a band fleshing out a general idea, and doing so on the first take. This isn’t a band in studio rehearsing new material for months, mixing and matching parts of different takes. No. Talk about the general idea, sit down, play, see where it goes, and that’s it. That spontaneity is truly the key to its genius, and Miles’ group captured that on this album.
I’m a long way from being a jazz convert, but one thing I do know is I’ll be buying more Miles Davis records.