Monday, 18 January 2010

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue



If you have to bag, tag and label every form of music produced, and there are some you simply cannot add a convenient name too no matter how hard you try, then this album is very much jazz.
In fact it is quite possibly the greatest jazz album ever.

Miles Davis, for this is indeed the musician behind this classic album, has to be one of the 20th centuries greatest musicians. Not just in terms of the prolific amounts of music he produced but also in terms of his relentless search for new forms of music to play. Initially he was a member of the notorious Be Bop movement playing alongside the likes of Charlie "Bird" Parker but soon moved onto create music that was of his own design and can be largely credited as being the first to blend jazz with rock and thereby giving birth to what we now term as fusion. We tend to think, and very wrongly, that rock invented the drug culture. Perhaps in terms of the influence of subsequent generations and their apparent adoration of everything sixties/rock fuelled it has, but Miles was doing that shit a good twenty years prior to rock 'n roll and the boom time of the sixties.

But lets not speed ahead to some future time but stay firmly with the time that Kind of Blue was created. 1959.

If Jazz were a religion then Miles Davis' album "Kind of Blue" is the blood of Christ and The Grail all rolled into one, a musical icon, a defining moment in popular culture.
Like so many great albums it is brief, lasting only for forty-five minutes and it contains some of the greatest improvised music ever recorded.

The concept that Miles Davis had for this album was to experiment with a style that he called "modal". With my limited understanding of musical terms this can best be explained as a style that didn't use chord progression to improvise from but instead used scales. What is really amazing is that the whole album was recorded in two sessions but even more incredible was the fact that he only wrote the melodies hours before the session and then simply handed out those self same melodies to the band, told them what he wanted, when to improvise, what order the musicians were to solo in and bob's yer uncle that was it.

The band he chose were probably the best he ever had to play with and contained some of Jazz's finest and greatest musicians.

John Coltrane tenor saxophone
Cannonball Adderley alto sax
Bill Evans/Wynton Kelly piano
Paul Chambers bass
Jimmy Cobb drums

There is an undeniable mystique that surrounds Kind of Blue in that virtually everyone has heard of it even if they have never listened to it. It's a bit like Beethoven's 5th or The Beatles Revolver, its fame runs before it.

For me that mystique is justified.

Being the age I am, I didn't really know when I bought this album what a revolutionary set of music it contained. I simply accepted what the experts said. What I did do, on first hearing it, was to discover some of the best music I had ever heard. It was and still is bloody amazing. When I first heard this album I didn't know cool jazz from cucumbers. The only be-bop I knew was the Deluxe or a-lula kind. Because of this album I have re-evaluated my thoughts on Jazz in general.

It only contains five tracks.

So What
Freddie Freeloader
Blue in Green
All Blues
Flamenco Sketches

Five tracks that contain music that would pacify an mesmerise the most tortured of souls. There are moments of such indescribable, breath taking beauty and a wonderful feeling of almost Zen like tranquility that it really beggars belief to accurately do it justice.

Contemplative and yet thought provoking.
Soothing and smoky, like sitting in a bar at midnight when there is only you, the bartender and this incredible band playing their collective hearts out.

It was Miles' idea to move away from the fast paced and often melody less music of the late 1950's and bring back a sense of melody again. In this he achieves his aims for this album is packed with tunes. Plaintive, pensive, playful, powerful music with a grace and elegance unlike anything else I have ever heard.

The fact that I, once a rocker at heart, would include this on my all time list of favourite albums is a testament in it self. I am not alone though. This album, unlike any other Jazz album, with the possible exception of John Coltrane's Love Supreme, is the one that unites a multitude of genre's. From classical to country, rock to reggae they all come to listen and worship at this veritable alter of musical magnificence.

Oh, by the way, as a cursory footnote, Kind of Blue has sold more than any Jazz record ever.

Miles Davis?

One of a kind.



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all words and art are copyright © of C.J. Duffy.

3 comments:

Doug said...

My dad had that album when I was a kid and I have it myself. I bought when I was in school because I thought Jazz was atmospheric enough to study to. Then I would press play and stare at the spinning tape, listen to the adventure and tap my fingers and feet in time. I blame Miles Davis before anyone else for my poor study habits.

vickie said...

Love this - discovered it randomly on Spotify a couple of months ago and ended up buying it!

Not a jazz fan normally but definitely recommend this one. Just put it on in face :)

teresa martin said...

i was going to post the youtube link for the album on the blog a few weeks ago and decided against it. stunning album.