Miles Davis (Final of 2)

The first Miles Davis post is here. In an earlier post about jazz I featured a number called “E.S.P.” from Miles’ second great quintet (1964-1968.) What’s interesting to me is how Miles expanded his sound shortly thereafter and become such a force in what came to be deemed jazz-rock or fusion, a topic I discussed in yet another previous post.  (And no I’m not ignoring “Kind of Blue” which came out in the late ’50s. That album is so iconic that I’ll be doing a separate post on it in one of my upcoming “Featured Albums” write-ups).

Miles’ first foray into electric music was with the album “Miles in the Sky” (1968). On this record, in addition to Wayne Shorter on tenor sax and Tony Williams on drums, three electric instruments were introduced: electric piano (Herbie Hancock), electric bass (Ron Carter), and electric guitar (George Benson).

(It’s notable, though, that even though Miles perhaps wanted to capture some of the energy of rock, every one of the guys on this session were jazz players, not rock musicians.). The following tune, “Stuff,” is the first number on the album. (I guess I’m a traditionalist. This song doesn’t really kick in for me till Shorter starts on sax some ten minutes in).

It’s been said that with the album “In a Silent Way,” (1969) Miles truly began his electric period. During the sixties, he had been listening to artists such as Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Parliament/Funkadelic. To me, he seemed like an artist who had a “been there, done that” attitude towards his own music.

Having already gone through every other genre of jazz, it was time to take a new turn. And I think that while he was very much a jazzer, he could see that there was something exciting going on in rock that he wanted to capture.  (And he was very open to change and indifferent as to whether or not his music received his peers’ approbation).

The next track, “Shhh/Peaceful.” has the following personnel: Davis, Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), John McLaughlin (guitar), Chick Corea (electric piano), Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Joe Zawinul (organ), Dave Holland (double bass), Tony Williams (drums).

And so we come to “Bitches Brew,” which may be the most celebrated Miles fusion album ever. (My nephew – who never met a Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails song he didn’t like, really likes this album).

Wikipedia says this: “Though Bitches Brew was in many ways revolutionary, perhaps its most important innovation was rhythmic. The rhythm section for this recording consists of two bassists (one playing bass guitar, the other double bass), two to three drummers, two to three electric piano players, and a percussionist, all playing at the same time.”

This album was very influential and in fact many of the players on it (and the previous albums), became the jazz/rock lions of the ’70’s, arguably this genre’s real heyday. This track is “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” It is significant in part because Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul play on it and they would go on to found the seminal fusion ensemble Weather Report.

Given Miles’s prodigious multi-decade output, I could probably do several more posts on him alone. But as mentioned, I’ll do one more down the road on “Kind of Blue” and leave it at that. (Or maybe, hmm, “Sketches of Spain” as well.)

2 thoughts on “Miles Davis (Final of 2)

  1. Miles just leads to more Miles. ‘Bitches Brew’ was my intro to his music so I have a strong connection to that style. I went nuts and got everything I could grab at the time. ‘Get Up With It’…etc. Plus all the stuff you mentioned above. I went back and discovered his earlier stuff later. Well done piece Jim. Keep checking in with the Davis stuff. ( Watched ‘Play Misty For Me” a while back. Zawinul is in a concert scene.)


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