Tag Archives: miles davis

Miles Davis – Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud

6 May

As a jazz aficionado, I know a lot of people for whom the genre is really just background music. It plays in movies and lounges and at best it sets tone and at worst it fills space but it’s not really music to pay attention to. You might be one of those people right now. If you are and you’re looking to change that, this is the album for you and the nice thing is that even if you’re already a jazz fan, it’s still the album for you.

This album comes from the film Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud, a French noir New Wave movie. The director Louis Malle gave jazz legend Miles Davis a private screening and then Miles and his band improvised the entire score. The soundtrack is quintessentially noir but elevated to a degree you have never heard before and so a great way to see what exactly makes the difference.

This is made easier by how immediate the difference is. The opening track “Generique” hits you with Miles’ trumpet from the first note and it is a revelation. He gets such a bold, confident sound from the instrument and it’s completely suffused with the melancholy of the noir. I don’t know if you normally consider the trumpet to be a lonely instrument, but the emotion that Miles builds in this track is undeniable.

His trumpet work in the following “L’Assassinat De Carala” is similarly spectacular. He holds his notes much further than you would expect and so keeps you off-balance. It’s never quite the notes you expect, but they’re never out of place.

There are however a couple of tracks that don’t quite fit. “At Bar Du Petit Bac” is closer to generic lounge jazz than I would like albeit done well enough not to warrant much complaint. Similarly, “Sur L’Autoroute” feels out of place. It’s solid frenetic jazz and the drum work deserves special attention for the amount it puts into the space behind the brass, but it still doesn’t really fit into the noir of the rest of the album. The trumpet and sax both get decent solos as well here. It would be quite the solid track in a different album.

On the other hand, “Visite du Vigil” is unique in the album for the space that it gives the bass, but it fits in perfectly with the rest. The way the track builds up perfectly with so few moving parts is a monument of skill.

The album finishes with “Chez Le Photographe Du Motel” which again brings back the focus on the trumpet and the noir. It’s cinematic and evocative. You can see the gumshoe on the rainy road as it plays. Barney Wilen’s sax is more muted but maintains the emotion and goes into some very interesting solo work. The trumpet solo over a very gentle piano and brush is astonishing though. Throughout this album, Miles sets tone and emotion in a way that’s deeply familiar but with a skill that’s exceptional. You may have heard noir jazz before, but you’ll never have heard any this good.

Miles Davis – Rubberband

23 Sep

Rubberband was originally recorded in 1985, shortly after Miles’ five-year hiatus and shortly before his death. The original recording was never completed and ended up being archived until quite recently. It’s been dusted off and filled out and the result, while not exceptional, makes for quite a decent funk album.

The result is most notable not for any trait, but for a lack. There’s much less Miles than one would expect. The album required a lot of filling out and so Miles himself shows up far less than one would like. The songs that fully feature him, like “See I See” are very strong, but his absence tells. It’s an album that needs inspiration.

Still, if you’re looking for some new funk / R&B, there’s enough here to keep you engaged for a while. It’s also one of those albums that seems to be having fun and that’s always nice. If you’re new to Miles’ funk period, you will find You’re Under Arrest to be more the more rewarding listen, but you should still find a little time for an album that’s less accomplished, but still very sincere.

Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6

26 Oct

This tour came at a pivotal time for both the people named above and jazz as a whole. Miles’ magnum opus Kind of Blue was still fresh, but Coltrane had also just released his blueprint for the future, Giant Steps. Trane was already bucking to leave the first great Miles Davis quintet and further explore the new strain of jazz that he pioneered. Soon, Miles would also reinvent himself to fully incorporate this new sound, but this tour found him still firmly in the thinking of Kind of Blue and the tension between the two artists makes for a fascinating listen.

Coltrane is clearly just not in the same headspace as the rest of the quintet and his solos are fiery and bursting with ideas. You can see the early sheets of sound that would later be his calling card. His pace of new ideas is inhumanly fast and yet somehow still seems slower than he would have liked. He was accelerating into the future and it just could not come quickly enough for him.

Miles on the other hand was still in the present. His solos were much more traditional. They seem to be exactly of the style that Coltrane was trying to upend. That in no way diminishes their brilliance though. He runs a slower, purer sound than Trane, and hits the most unexpected notes and pulls them out wonderfully.

On top of that, the rest of the quintet does really great work. It wasn’t a great quintet just because of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, the whole group was amazingly talented. In particular, I really like the piano solos in Copenhagen. They’re nice and understated and yet so clever.

Seeing the contrast between Trane and the rest of the quintet is fascinating in itself. It’s almost fusion in how the two forms of jazz but highly individualistic in sound and approach.

This album would be worth the listen just for its historical value as a transitional piece, but it is also just excellent jazz from an all-time great group of musicians at the height of their powers.


Top Five Jazz Records For Beginners

25 Nov

So, let’s imagine you have a friend who loves jazz, and just to make this vision a little more believable, let us make said friend 6’2″ and a little bit on the thin side. Now, you want to impress this fascinating young man with your knowledge of his loved genre of music, but you do not know where to start. I mean, you know what an untamed jungle jazz is when compared to your safe pop and rock, and yet, you know that you want to explore a little. You dream of running your fingers up and down a long, brass saxophone, or possibly putting your lips to a trumpet and giving it a blow and suddenly your guitar feels awfully small compared to the double bass next to it. Well, then my friend, you need help. Instead, because the world is not fair, what you will get is the Top Five Music Top Five Jazz Records For Beginners.

These five records are all not only jazz classics, but are also extremely accessible. These ones have been picked so that no matter what your background is, you can pick them up and most likely enjoy them. Jazz is an extremely rewarding genre of music if often a little challenging and getting a good start is essentially to enjoying it.

Ella and Louis – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong is undoubtedly the biggest star jazz has ever produced. He alone is the most responsible for bringing jazz to the public ear and pretty much every jazz musician after him has been directly influenced by his music. He is to jazz what The Beatles is to rock. Not content with mastery of the trumpet, he went on to invent the art of scat from which we have his best known hit, What A Wonderful World.

Ella Fitzgerald is the greatest singer there has ever been. You may prop up people like Aretha Franklin and Billy Holiday, or even modern day singers like Janelle Monae, and undoubtedly all their voices are certainly outstanding, but there has never been anyone to touch Ella Fitzgerald.

Together, the two of them make an excellent team in this album. There are touches of Satchmo’s trumpet, but the centerpiece is the two of them singing jazz standards. All in all, this is deservedly a jazz classic.

Try Moonlight in Vermont and They Can’t Take That Away From Me to get a feel of this album. Of the two, I prefer Moonlight in Vermont, even without the lyrics being entirely in haiku.

Takin’ Off – Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is one of the more interesting people in jazz. Despite groundings in hard bop and a long stint under Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock has been about as much funk as jazz and a little bit of everything else on the side. He’s ranged all the way from the proto-industrial rockit to the Grammy award winning jazz take on Joni Mitchell River: The Joni Letters. Takin’ Off is his debut as a bandleader and contains what is possibly his signature tune, Watermelon Man. Try Three Bags Full and see if you like it.

Getz/Gilberto – Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto

This is one of only two jazz albums ever to win the Grammy for best album, one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time and nothing at all like any of the other albums on this list. This album brought together guitarist/singer João Gilberto and composer/pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim with American Saxophonist Stan Getz to result in the finest moment Bossa Nova, the Brazilian mixture of jazz and samba, has ever seen. This is the rare album that is not only critically acclaimed but is popular enough to spark its own craze. Doralice alone is of the class of music that will never leave your head, but The Girl From Ipanema is just perfect.

Time Out – Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck took a trip through Eurasia, and decided to make this album as an experiment in the musical style he saw there. His publisher gave it the green light on the condition that he would first record a more conventional album, Gone With The Wind. While the latter is now considered one of his lesser efforts, Time Out is one of the definitive Cool Jazz albums. Blue Rondo a La Turk‘s shifting time signatures are amusing enough to carry an entire album, but the top forty hit Take Five is very hard to beat.

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

Miles Davis is one of the giants of music, one of those people who stand so tall over an art form that no one who follows can help but be influenced in some way by his work. For Kind of Blue, he had with him his ensemble sextet of Bill Evans on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass and both Cannonball Adderley and the incomparable John Coltrane on saxophone. This is the kind of album you define music by.


John Coltrane: Olé Coltrane

12 Aug


Coltrane’s final album under Atlantic, the studio where My Favorite Things and Giant Steps were recorded, Olé Coltrane is an often-overlooked album, which while not as impossibly good as, say A Love Supreme, is still an undeniable masterpiece.

The entire album stretches for four tracks; Olé, Dahomey Dance, Aisha and the bonus track To Her Ladyship. “Olé” is excellent, holding an energetic performance from the rhythm section over the entire eighteen minutes. There are plenty of Spanish sounds from the horn, rather reminiscent of the seminal Sketches of Spain, which was recorded a year before by Coltrane’s old bandleader Miles Davis. Eric Dolphy shines on this track with good playing throughout and a standout solo midway through. Coltrane’s playing in this album is everything that is signature about him. His frantic yet meticulously placed notes seem as though they are the saxophonist himself telling you what he feels you should know, and although it cannot flow fast enough, every word falls perfectly into place. Then, just as you are reaching your peak, he slides you back into the chorus. This crosses music, this crosses conversation, this is magic.

From here, we go to the much less challenging “Dahomey Dance”, which nevertheless starts excellently. The rhythm here keeps you moving, holding up to the dance music it derives from. An interesting base line sneaks around the quite good, if not quite inspired horn playing that holds the foreground.

“Aisha” though is just beautiful. There is no other word for music like this or Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat“. Every single note is exactly where it should be. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is superfluous. Everything is perfect.

The bonus track of “To Her Ladyship” is a strong inclusion, featuring an excellent performance from Dolphy on the flute again and a very solid conclusion. However, the rhythm often feels dissonant, and the track as a whole is certainly the weakest of the album.

Verdict: Should you get this album? The answer is always yes, but if you are new to Jazz, then Davis’s Sketches of Spain would make a much easier starting point and if you are new to Coltrane, then A Love Supreme, My Favorite Things and Giant Steps are all better albums, of which My Favorite Things is the most approachable. However, even if it takes you some time to get to this album, once you do, it will reward you immensely.

– Nikhil

Miles Davis: Blue Moods

25 Jun

Blue Moods is a beautiful album. It’s absolutely perfect for after a stressful day, cutting effortlessly through the knot of your tension – not like Alexander with a series of vicious chops, but peacefully. Very, very peacefully. Don’t get me wrong: peaceful as it may be, Blue Moods is not an album that can dismissed as just ‘easy listening’. What’s important to understand here is the fact that while its four tracks are restrained, it doesn’t mean that the songs are shallow or uncomplicated in any way.

Blue Moods is a quintessential cool jazz album by Miles. It’s full of those slow ballads that he liked, and the sound is like fat, iridescent bubbles rising in a smoky room and then popping, one by one. While Miles completely overshadows his supporting cast in this album, both Charles Mingus (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums) do wonderfully in a much more relaxed setting than they were used to. Mingus has a couple of nice solos as well, but these merely serve as breaks from Miles’ playing. This is his album; and despite the greatness of his supporting cast, one really cannot overstate that at all.

The first track “Nature Boy” in particular is wonderfully  slow and relaxed; it’s easily the best song on this album. In fact,  put “Nature Boy” in any album ever, and it alone would be enough justification to pick that album up.  However, the languidness of the song makes the albums’ transition into the more active “Alone Together” rather dissonant. (And it doesn’t help that “Alone Together” is probably the weakest track of the album either.) However, a nice vibraphone does a lot to save it. The two standout compositions, “Nature Boy” and “Easy Living” are weakened by their surrounding of merely good tracks. However, if a couple of tracks set an impossibly high bar, we should not complain that the rest fall short.

Verdict: This is not an album that must be picked up. Really, one would do just fine with “Nature Boy” and nothing more, but these are all rewarding tracks, and if you are looking for some relaxing cool jazz, this is as good a place as any other.

– Nikhil

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