Ten Songs That Made Me Love...
published: 24 /
In 'Ten Songs That Made Me Love...' Keith reflects on ten songs from Miles Davis' massively eclectic catalogue and finds ten reasons to love his music.
Miles Davis. One of the towering figures in modern music. Everyone has his acclaimed master work 'Kind of Blue' and rightly so. It is a modern classic. But for six decades Davis influenced modern music from modern jazz to new worlds of improvisation in jazz, funk and world music. Can 10 songs paint a picture of an artist who never stood still or settled for a comfortable career? The answer is definitely NO.
1. 'Miles Runs the Voodoo Down' ('Bitches Brew', 1970)
I read a review of 'Bitches Brew' in 'Melody Maker' or 'N.M.E.' when the album was released. I was intrigued. I was twenty-years old and did not know who Miles Davis was! If memory serves me correctly I was struck by the artwork of the double album, but the music was totally hypnotic. Weaving my way from soul, blues and psychedelia was a wonderful learning curve but this was something else. A stellar cast of musicians worked on 'Bitches Brew' and here this sprawling fourteen-minute epic burns like wildfire. Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul trade spiraling keyboards with Davis while John McLaughlin’s guitar fires off cosmic solos. A wonderful, world-changing groove. I spent hours looking at the artwork with my headphones on wondering what this album was all about.
2. 'In a Silent Way/Shh peaceful' ('In a Silent Way', 1969)
'In a Silent Way' puts 'Bitches Brew' into context. Davis had slowly been moving in the direction of jazz fusion as heard on 'Miles in the Sky'. Joe Zawinul wrote 'In a Silent Way' while Davis penned 'Shhh/Peaceful'. Davis conjours up a dark atmospheric ambience that weaves strange patterns unheard of in 1969. Electric pianos featuring Herbie Hancock sparkle and hum, McLaughlin adds jazzy solos into the spacey openness. Miles is restrained here. A timeless statement from a man moving from his position as jazz trumpeter to innovator.
3. 'Generique' ('Lift to the Gallows' soundtrack, 1957)
Many listeners swear by 'Kind of Blue' as the great, late night Miles album. This soundtrack album is truly wonderful giving 'Blue' a run for its money. Davis was asked to provide the soundtrack to Rappeneau’s black and white movie 'Ascenseur pour L’echafaud'. Davis agreed to create the soundtrack after a private showing. Davis was performing in Paris and with his sidesmen improvised the whole album while parts of the film were projected in the background. 'Generique' is perfect late night music. Dark, mysterious and smoky, Miles's haunting lazy trumpet slips and slides like molten velvet and has you reaching for the single malt, and even if you don't smoke, you reach for a Gauloise! Perfect.
4. 'So What' ('The Final Tour with John Coltrane Live', 1960)
'So What' is a cut from 'Kind of Blue' visited here by the late ‘50’s quintet that included the legendary John Coltrane. Originally a mid tempo piece, 'So What' is driven in hard bop style by bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Davis solos freely early on in the tune, which does not suffer from the up tempo live version which smoulders with passion. When Coltrane enters, he brings a flurry of notes that cascade like a waterfall in flood as the band steam on in fine style. At thirteen-minutes long, this is a wonderful example of the power of live classic jazz, full of life and joy.
5. 'Agitation' ('E.S.P.', 1965)
Six years on from the seminal 'Kind of Blue' album, Miles’s new quintet included Wayne Shorter on tenor sax and Herbie Hancock on piano. This track finds Davis hinting at things to come. Tony Williams excels on the drums and Hancock’s piano offers a sense of improvisation that certainly foreshadows the far out excursions coming on 'Bitches Brew'. The quintet steam along bouncing off each other with an intoxicating fluency. I just love Ron Carter on double bass holding everything together. Timeless!
6. 'Backyard Ritual' ('Tutu', 1986)
Miles mirrors the times with the release of 'Tutu'. The album certainly divided opinion. 'Backyard Ritual' is a stone cold, funky groove. Miles’s muted trumpet slips and slides over a fusion of beats and rhythmic effects. Multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller features heavily on the album but this track, composed by George Duke, is as fine a slab of jazz/funk as you could wish for and is a fine example of just how contemporary Davis could be.
7. 'Drad Dog' ('Someday My Prince Will Come', 1961)
Pour another finger of single malt. Drad Dog oozes class on this superb, almost romantic record. Saxophonist Hank Mobley joins Davis’s band, but here on this lovely, lazy track Wynton Kelly’s piano is sublime highlighting Miles's sensitive and moody playing. Essential late night listening.
8. 'Will O the Whisp' ('Sketches of Spain', 1961)
This album pairs Davis with regular collaborator arranger and composer Gil Evans. Using Alan Lomax recordings of Spanish folk songs, 'Sketches of Spain' was hailed “the shape of jazz to come" by some critics. This track is often overlooked and yet conjures up a sense of journeying through a humid landscape where the pace of life is simple and slow. Evans crafts a soundscape alien to jazz listeners but integrating Davis’s willingness to go beyond peoples' expectations. Davis plays flugelhorn and trumpet on a collection that, while critically acclaimed, finds a scarcity of anything resembling jazz.
9. 'Go Ahead John!' ('Big Fun', 1974)
'Big Fun' is a behemoth of an album being a collection of material taken from recording sessions between 1969/72 during the Davis electric period. 'Go Ahead John' is a tribute to electric guitarist John McLaughlin who features strongly here. Clocking in at twenty eight minutes, this cut would easily fit in the 'Bitches Brew' sessions but was actually part of the 1971 Jack Johnson recordings. In essence, this is a spacious, dark and groove-laden trip with the legendary Jack De Johnette’s drums providing a funky groove. After the opening's almost psychedelic salvo, the track develops into a slower blues and at about thirteen minutes, clever overdubbing finds Miles duetting with himself. At about twenty minutes, a slight Eastern feel is introduced, along with a faster, groovier tempo to complete a Miles Davis masterpiece in contemporary jazz.
10. 'All Blues' ('Kind of Blue', 1958)
A classic track from a classic album. For this album Davis gave little written instruction to the band and there was hardly any rehearsal time before the sessions. Pianist Bill Evans was controversially introduced into the all-black personnel and contributed some writing credits. His playing here justifies Davis's faith in his ability to know just what is required. 'All Blues' has a mystique all of its own. An innovative, drone-like piece in a minor key with minimal chord changes, the resulting composition is nothing short of perfection. After Davis and Cannonball Adderley have their say, weaving the simple melody lines in and out and sharing solos, Bill Evans's piano solo is a superb transition, as the track concludes in a slow fade out. Truly magnificent and part of a modern classic.
“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning... Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”