Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970)

AllMusic Review: Thought by many to be among the most revolutionary albums in jazz history, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew solidified the genre known as jazz-rock fusion. The original double LP included only six cuts and featured up to 12 musicians at any given time, some of whom were already established while others would become high-profile players later, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Airto, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Don Alias, Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, and Lenny White among them. Originally thought to be a series of long jams locked into grooves around keyboard, bass, or guitar vamps, Bitches Brew is actually a recording that producer Teo Macero assembled from various jams and takes by razor blade, splice to splice, section to section. “Pharaoh’s Dance” opens the set with its slippery trumpet lines, McLaughlin’s snaky guitar figures skirting the edge of the rhythm section and Don Alias’ conga slipping through the middle. Corea and Zawinul’s keyboards create a haunted, riffing modal groove, echoed and accented by the basses of Harvey Brooks and Holland. The title cut was originally composed as a five-part suite, though only three were used. Here the keyboards punch through the mix and big chords ring up distorted harmonics for Davis to solo rhythmically over, outside the mode. McLaughlin’s comping creates a vamp, and the bass and drums carry the rest. It’s a small taste of the deep voodoo funk to appear on Davis’ later records. Side three opens with McLaughlin and Davis trading fours and eights over a lockstep hypnotic vamp on “Spanish Key.” Zawinul’s lyric sensibility provides a near chorus for Corea to flit around in; the congas and drummers juxtapose themselves against the basslines. It nearly segues into the brief “John McLaughlin,” featuring an organ playing modes below arpeggiated blues guitar runs. The end of Bitches Brew, signified by the stellar “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” reflects the influence of Jimi Hendrix with its chunky, slipped chords and Davis playing a ghostly melody through the funkiness of the rhythm section. It seemingly dances, becoming increasingly more chaotic until it nearly disintegrates before shimmering into a loose foggy nadir. The disc closes with “Sanctuary,” completely redone here as a moody electric ballad that was reworked for this band while keeping enough of its integrity to be recognizable. Bitches Brew is so forward-thinking that it retains its freshness and mystery in the 21st century. — Thom Jurek

Track List

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Recording date Length
1. “Pharaoh’s Dance” Joe Zawinul August 21, 1969 20:05
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Recording date Length
1. “Bitches Brew” Miles Davis August 19, 1969 26:59
Side three
No. Title Writer(s) Recording date Length
1. “Spanish Key” Davis August 21, 1969 17:29
2. “John McLaughlin” Davis August 19, 1969 4:26
Side four
No. Title Writer(s) Recording date Length
1. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” Davis August 20, 1969 14:04
2. “Sanctuary” Wayne Shorter August 19, 1969 10:52
Total length: 94:11

 

 

Schill Score:  2/10

Comment: I know this is considered a masterpiece by some.  And I’m a big Davis and Jazz fusion fan.  But this album takes it too far and often turned into meandering noise.

 

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Miles Davis – In A Silent Way (1969)

AllMusic Review: Listening to Miles Davis’ originally released version of In a Silent Way in light of the complete sessions released by Sony in 2001 (Columbia Legacy 65362) reveals just how strategic and dramatic a studio construction it was. If one listens to Joe Zawinul’s original version of “In a Silent Way,” it comes across as almost a folk song with a very pronounced melody. The version Miles Davis and Teo Macero assembled from the recording session in July of 1968 is anything but. There is no melody, not even a melodic frame. There are only vamps and solos, grooves layered on top of other grooves spiraling toward space but ending in silence. But even these don’t begin until almost ten minutes into the piece. It’s Miles and McLaughlin, sparely breathing and wending their way through a series of seemingly disconnected phrases until the groove monster kicks in. The solos are extended, digging deep into the heart of the ethereal groove, which was dark, smoky, and ashen. McLaughlin and Hancock are particularly brilliant, but Corea’s solo on the Fender Rhodes is one of his most articulate and spiraling on the instrument ever. The A-side of the album, “Shhh/Peaceful,” is even more so. With Tony Williams shimmering away on the cymbals in double time, Miles comes out slippery and slowly, playing over the top of the vamp, playing ostinato and moving off into more mysterious territory a moment at a time. With Zawinul’s organ in the background offering the occasional swell of darkness and dimension, Miles could continue indefinitely. But McLaughlin is hovering, easing in, moving up against the organ and the trills by Hancock and Corea; Wayne Shorter hesitantly winds in and out of the mix on his soprano, filling space until it’s his turn to solo. But John McLaughlin, playing solos and fills throughout (the piece is like one long dreamy solo for the guitarist), is what gives it its open quality, like a piece of music with no borders as he turns in and through the commingling keyboards as Holland paces everything along. When the first round of solos ends, Zawinul and McLaughlin and Williams usher it back in with painterly decoration and illumination from Corea and Hancock. Miles picks up on another riff created by Corea and slips in to bring back the ostinato “theme” of the work. He plays glissando right near the very end, which is the only place where the band swells and the tune moves above a whisper before Zawinul’s organ fades it into silence. This disc holds up, and perhaps is even stronger because of the issue of the complete sessions. It is, along with Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew, a signature Miles Davis session from the electric era. — Thom Jurek

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Shhh”/”Peaceful” Miles Davis 18:16
  • “Shhh” – 6:14
  • “Peaceful” – 5:42
  • “Shhh” – 6:20
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
2. “In a Silent Way”/”It’s About That Time” Joe Zawinul (“In a Silent Way”), Davis (“It’s About That Time”) 19:52
  • “In a Silent Way” – 4:11
  • “It’s About That Time” – 11:27
  • “In a Silent Way” – 4:14

 

Schill Score: 8/10

 

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Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)

Kind of Blue is a studio album by American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. It was recorded on March 2 and April 22, 1959, at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio in New York City, and released on August 17 of that year by Columbia Records. The album features Davis’s ensemble sextet consisting of saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, with new band pianist Wynton Kelly appearing on one track in place of Evans. In part owing to Evans’ joining the sextet during 1958, Davis followed up on the modal experimentation of Milestones by basing Kind of Blue entirely on modality, departing further from his earlier work’s hard bop style of jazz.

Kind of Blue has been regarded by many critics as the greatest jazz record, Davis’s masterpiece, and one of the best albums of all time. Its influence on music, including jazz, rock, and classical genres, has led writers to also deem it one of the most influential albums ever recorded. The album was one of fifty recordings chosen in 2002 by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, and in 2003 it was ranked number 12 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Track Listing:

1: So What
2: Freddie Freeloader
3: Blue in Green
4: All Blues
5: Flamenco Sketches

Review: Kind of Blue isn’t merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it’s an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album. To be reductive, it’s the Citizen Kane of jazz — an accepted work of greatness that’s innovative and entertaining. That may not mean it’s the greatest jazz album ever made, but it certainly is a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue posses such a mystique? Perhaps it’s that this music never flaunts its genius. It lures listeners in with the slow, luxurious bassline and gentle piano chords of “So What.” From that moment on, the record never really changes pace — each tune has a similar relaxed feel, as the music flows easily. Yet Kind of Blue is more than easy listening. It’s the pinnacle of modal jazz — tonality and solos build from chords, not the overall key, giving the music a subtly shifting quality. All of this doesn’t quite explain why seasoned jazz fans return to this record even after they’ve memorized every nuance. They return because this is an exceptional band – Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and Wynton Kelly — one of the greatest in history, playing at the peak of its power. As Evans said in the original liner notes for the record, the band did not play through any of these pieces prior to recording. Davis laid out the themes and chords before the tape rolled, and then the band improvised. The end results were wondrous, filled with performances that still crackle with vitality. Few albums of any genre manage to work on so many different levels, but Kind of Blue does. It can be played as background music, yet it amply rewards close listening. It is advanced music that is extraordinarily enjoyable. It may be a stretch to say that if you don’t like Kind of Blue, you don’t like jazz — but it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than a cornerstone of any jazz collection. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Schill Score: 10/10

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Miles Davis – Birth Of The Cool (1956)

Birth of the Cool is a compilation album by American jazz musician Miles Davis, released in February or March 1957 on Capitol Records. It compiles eleven tracks recorded by Davis’s nonet for the label over the course of three sessions during 1949 and 1950.

Featuring unusual instrumentation and several notable musicians, the music consisted of innovative arrangements influenced by classical music techniques such as polyphony, and marked a major development in post-bebop jazz. As the title suggests, these recordings are considered seminal in the history of cool jazz. Most of them were originally released in the 10-inch 78-rpm format and are all approximately three minutes long.

Track Listing

(1) “Move” (Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis) – 2:29
(2) “Jeru” (Gerry Mulligan) – 3:10
(3) “Moon Dreams” (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:13
(4) “Venus De Milo” (Mulligan) – 3:10
(5) “Budo” (Miles Davis, Bud Powell, arranged by John Lewis) – 2:31
(6) “Deception” (Davis, arranged by Gerry Mulligan) – 2:46

Side B

(7) “Godchild” (George Wallington, arranged by Gerry Mulligan) – 3:08
(8) “Boplicity” (Cleo Henry, arranged by Gil Evans) – 2:58
(9) “Rocker” (Mulligan) – 3:04
(10) “Israel” (Johnny Carisi) – 2:15
(11) “Rouge” (John Lewis) – 3:13

Review: There is no denying Miles Davis is one of the biggest assholes in the history of music. He loved drugs, booze, and whores. But he was also one hell of a musician and musical arraigner. “Birth of Cool” is one of the most perfectly arranged albums of all time. Just listen to “Jeru”. My god. The entire band is totally on point. Having people like Junior Collins, and Kai Winding, and Lee Konitz on the album? It’s like a who’s who is amazing jazz musicians at the time.

Schill Score: 8.5/10

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