# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - Kind of Blue

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 10 / 1 / 2009

Miscellaneous - Kind of Blue
Label: Select Label
Format: N/A


In the latest in our 'Re : View' series, in which we look back at albums from the past, Malcolm Carter reflects upon Miles Davis' 1958 jazz classic 'Kind of Blue', which has been recently re-released in a 50th anniversary box set

Like most people I would like to have my teenage years back again, if only because when I was actually living them I didn’t appreciate just what a good time I was having and how important they would be to me later in life. Not that I’d do many things differently, I’d just like to make sure that I savoured every minute and made the most of them. One thing I wouldn’t want to change though would be the period I was a boy / teenager in. I know we all think the years we grew up in produced the best music but the fact is that during the 60s there was so much happening in music that no other period had such a rich tapestry of music as we did then. Although they never meant so much to me at the time and it wasn’t until years later that I appreciated just how big their contribution to popular music was, living through the period when the Beatles spearheaded what was a musical revolution was possibly the most exciting period ever. By having an interest in music at a really young age even before the Beatles came on the scene I took in all the different types of music that were around me. I missed out on the skiffle bands (I’m not quite that old!) but through older siblings I was introduced to those sounds along with blues, rock ‘n’ roll and soul. Then, as time passed, the music I loved at any given moment changed as often as the brand of beer I used to drink in those days. At one point I was such a musical snob that if any type of music wasn’t followed by the word ‘soul’ then I wasn’t interested. It didn’t matter if it was Southern, Northern, Deep or whatever. It had to end in ‘soul’. Now if I had to choose a favourite genre I think it would be a close call between the alt. country sound and the psychedelic sounds of the 60s. Having said that the folk music that I followed as a boy and this new weird strain of folk music also still touches and impresses me. That has always been my yardstick when it comes to music ; if it touches me, if it makes my heart or feet move then I don’t really care if it’s hip, current or made by some long forgotten washed-up has been. If it sounds good to my heart or feet then I’ll embrace it. I am proud of the fact that my musical tastes are so wide that I can usually find something good in any type of music; I put it down to the fact that I was exposed to so many different genres when I was younger. But the one type of music I could never understand, the one that never touched or moved me, was jazz. To my young ears it had no real structure, no tune for the most part and did absolutely nothing for or to me. It left me cold; it sounded emotionless. I was confused about it. When I was young artists like Acker Bilk would reside near the top of the charts with songs like ‘Stranger On The Shore’ and I was told that Acker Bilk played jazz. Or to be more precise trad-jazz whatever that meant. I thought jazz was Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and their ilk. What did Acker Bilk and other British jazz artisst like Chris Barber have in common with Miles Davis? And it didn’t seem to be an American / British divide like pyschedelia was…Louis Armstrong was labelled jazz but in my young head ‘What A Wonderful World’ was middle of the road music. It didn’t help that whenever a jazz album was released that I thought might change my view of the genre it was always accompanied by a review that was so serious and so deep that it actually gave me negative feelings about the music before I’d even heard it. Why were there so many long, boring essays about jazz? Music was meant to make us feel good or help us through the bad times by knowing that whoever was singing about the loss of their latest love was actually singing a song about me. There was no need to write a long, dull piece explaining all that; I could feel it all in the music. As I gained a few years the odd jazz album did make its way onto my turntable. They were mainly compilations which got played every now and again when the mood struck me to try something different, to try to understand this music that so many people enjoyed that I couldn’t. Sometimes I would hear a track and realise that I’d heard it so many times before, like in the case of The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ‘Take Six’, and suddenly it would strike me that I actually liked that song. It made sense. So I’d buy the album and slowly but surely get more and more into the other tracks. Then I began to hunt down the back catalogue of some jazz artists that I started to like; artists such as Jimmy Scott and Chet Baker. I started to appreciate the beauty in their work that I’d never noticed before. I guess I kind of grew into it. I’d heard Herbie Hancock was a major jazz player but how could a song like ‘Rockit’ be classed as jazz? It didn’t really matter as that song although not my introduction to his work, impressed me enough to check out his back catalogue. That song probably lost Hancock some of his purist jazz fans but it must have introduced as many new fans to his music as it lost him. Hancock was once a member of one of the incarnations of the Miles Davis Quintet, and Davis was the toughest jazz musician for me to get into. I tried and tried to understand his music and each time I came away without getting anything from it. The first time any of Davis’s music made any sense to me was the 'Mellow Miles' compilation which I’m sure would be on the bottom of any list made up by any of Davis' followers. There has been so much written about Davis and his fellow musicians over the years that I felt there must be something there. There was something about the man that was interesting, something mysterious and dark about him that made me want to know more and hear more from the man. The first album I bought by Davis that wasn’t a compilation was ‘Kind Of Blue’. I bought a cheap CD version of the album and was surprised to discover that although I knew that it had been recorded some years ago that it was, in fact, originally released as far back as 1959. It still sounded fresh and unlike anything else I’d heard. For some reason ( the fact that I was older now maybe) it wasn’t such a hard album to get into and now, some years later, I have to confess that I can’t understand why I had such a struggle to appreciate not only Miles Davis but a lot of jazz albums when I was younger. The only reason I can think of is that it is down to age and that jazz is something you grow to appreciate as you get older. ‘Kind Of Blue’ gave me the kick I needed to invest in more of Davis’s work. ‘On The Corner’ was my next purchase in spite of the fact that I felt I should have spent my well-earned on something like ‘Sketches Of Spain’. In a way ‘On The Corner’ was another turning point for me, although it still took time to fully appreciate the album it was worthwhile sticking with ; it conjured up a completely different mood and showed me a completely different side to Miles Davis. I can’t describe the music that makes up ‘On The Corner’ and I wouldn’t even begin to try and anyway there are many, as usual, respected writers who have written pages on the album who will explain why the music is so good and I’ll let them get all technical about it. All I know is that it touched me in a different way to ‘Kind Of Blue’ and the fact that a jazz album touched me at all was a major surprise to me. As with most music fans when CDs arrived into this world I swore that I wouldn’t put more money into the major record labels bank accounts by buying CD versions of albums that I already owned. While I still think that vinyl albums do sound better than CDs it didn’t take me long to discover that CDs are so much more convenient to listen to than vinyl albums. No getting up to turn the album over half-way through, no pops and crackles and so much easier to skip tracks you don’t want to hear more than once are, for me, the major advantages of buying albums on CD. So it took very little time at all for me to start buying CD versions of albums I already owned on vinyl. It’s something I still do especially with bonus ‘unreleased- at- the- time’ songs appearing on many CD re-issues now. I read a few times that many jazz aficionados were initially dissatisfied with the way many Miles Davis albums have been reissued on CD by Sony/Columbia. It didn’t really bother me; I was unlikely to re-purchase any jazz album I had on vinyl or CD no matter how much enjoyment I now got out of them. Wrong again. For once I feel that a major record company, Sony / BMG in this case, has done something right. Last year I purchased a box set called ‘The Complete On The Corner Sessions’ at a reasonable price because not only did Sony extend the original single CD to six CDs which supposedly, given the title of the box, contained all the songs recorded around the time of the original album plus tracks recorded during the years 1972 to 1975 but it also contained, as far as I know (and I’m obviously no Miles Davis expert) the albums ‘Big Fun’ and ‘Get Up’. I was more than a little curious and excited to hear these albums and Sony issued it in an extremely attractive embossed metal box which reflected the sounds it contained. It really is an excellent package. This year I saw the adverts in the music press for the 50th Anniversary issue of ‘Kind Of Blue’. I tried the usual record shops on a trip to England only to be met with blank stares and came out of each and every shop I tried with my wallet still bulging and my hands empty. Even the major internet sites who had listed the box set ran out of stock quickly ( I notice that it’s available again now) and the only alternative at that point in time was, it seemed, to purchase a copy second-hand at a price even more inflated than the original list price. Thankfully living in Scandinavia where I am now based has a few advantages. Limited edition albums, once they finally reach us, tend to hang around a little longer. My favourite Swedish mail-order company had copies in stock at a more than acceptable price. Maybe it’s not cool to praise one of the major record companies, maybe for the most part they do get it horrendously wrong, maybe they are just money-grabbing suits and maybe the loyal fans who have purchased every re-issue of ‘Kind Of Blue’ through the years have every right to feel cheated but this box set really is something else. The box includes a blue vinyl copy of the original album in its original sleeve which made me realise that there really is no comparison between CDs and vinyl. Never having an original copy of the vinyl this was the first time I had seen ‘Kind Of Blue’ in all its 12” glory. Holding that slab of vinyl in a magnificent full-sized sleeve made me dig out a lot of albums that had been in storage and just gaze in wonder at the beauty of the sleeves. I had honestly forgotten just how brilliant album sleeves were when they not only had a decent sized photo or collage on them but when you could actually read sleeve notes without the aid of a magnifying glass. Also in the box set are an extended CD issue of ‘Kind Of Blue’ which expands the original five track album to fifteen tracks (the extras ranging in length from 11 seconds to close on two minutes) a further CD consisting of five recordings from 1958 along with a live recording of ‘So What’ from 1960, all 17 ½ minutes of it. There is also a DVD, ‘Celebrating A Masterpiece: Kind Of Blue’, which features a host of goodies not least a twenty-six minute in-session television appearance from 1959. That alone should be enough to tempt any Miles Davis fan to fork out once again for yet another edition of ‘Kind Of Blue’. Completing the box-set are a superb 60 page book and memorabilia such as 8 x 10 photos, a poster and more. As for the actual music, while I’m no technophile and have to admit that I can’t hear such a great difference between the sound on this latest CD version and the vinyl version that accompanies it in the box set. It’s the look of the vinyl version that makes this the one to go for whenever I play ‘Kind Of Blue’ now. For my money, the best re-issue of last year then has to go to ‘Kind Of Blue’, not just for the music that has taken me years to get into, but for making me realise that when it comes to albums nothing can beat the thrill of holding the original vinyl version. Strange that a re-issue of one of the most well-known albums in the genre of music that it has taken me a lifetime to appreciate has got me wandering around record fairs searching out vinyl copies of jazz albums I never thought I would be interested in. I never thought I would say this but job well-done Sony.

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Miscellaneous - Kind of Blue

Miscellaneous - Kind of Blue

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