Warming Up

Warming Up

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Listening: New Miles

When I heard that Columbia was releasing yet another Miles Davis recording, my initial thought was “Do we really need to have yet another Miles album?” Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge Miles Davis fan. I have more Miles albums than any other artist in my collection. Even more than Jimi Hendrix. And I have a LOT of Hendrix. But still. Another Miles album? Then I read that it was a 3 CD live set (plus a DVD) from late 1967. This changes things a bit. Any Miles album is good and worthwhile as far as I’m concerned, but there is something unique and special about his Second Quintet. And by late ’67 this band had been a BAND for three solid years. They had coalesced into something extraordinary – an amoeba that could mutate and move in any direction at any time. And the restless, searching energy of this group is especially evident on live recordings. The band was completely different in the studio. That’s not to say that the studio albums aren’t amazing – they are. But live in concert, the band really stretched. Staggeringly so, considering how narrow the live repertoire was for the 3 ½ - 4 years this band existed. They, for the most part, played the same tunes night after night. Often in the same order. In lesser hands this would become boring and tiresome. But Wayne, Herbie, Ron, Tony, and Miles – this band, was a once in a lifetime kind of ensemble. A living, breathing organism.

A lot of times when people talk about the live version of the second quintet they mention the Plugged Nickel sessions. Yes, those are great recordings, but they were recorded early on, not that long after the group formed. Sure, you hear the band stretching and pushing, but not like on later recordings and bootlegs. Plus, Miles is in pretty sad shape during those concerts. Shitty Miles is still great Miles as far as I’m concerned, but he’s struggling with the horn on the Plugged Nickel sessions (a lay-off from health-related issues, if I remember correctly). Whereas, a couple of years later, on this new Columbia set from 1967, Miles is pretty much at the peak of his powers as far as trumpet playing goes - from a technical standpoint. He’s all over the horn. High, low, fast, slow, loud, quiet. Power and control. And his tone is gorgeous (his sound hasn’t gotten to that amplified, coked-up, splatty sound that he would get in the early to mid 70’s – mind you, I love that sound too!). It hasn’t lost the romantic sentimentality that he was famous for. But he’s really, really pushing himself. His lines on fast tunes are just frightening. Anyone who ever says that Miles just wasn’t that great a trumpet player is completely full of crap as far as I’m concerned. Don’t believe me? Listen to this:

First Listen: Miles Davis, 'Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1'

Thanks, NPR! You’ve done it again (based on this alone, how can we not fund NPR???!!! – tongue in cheek – but not really!). NPR “First Listen” has given us the opportunity to listen to the first CD of this new Columbia set before it’s even released! And guess what? It’s AWESOME! The Band is absolutely operating at its peak. The music is a strange mix of old (Green Dolphin Street, ‘Round Midnight) and new (Agitation, Masqualero) and a few tunes that the band had made in the studio (Gingerbread Boy, Footprints). This is truly a moment of transition for Miles, and really all of the guys in the band. Six months later the Quintet would record “Filles de Kilimanjaro” – the record I really consider the pivotal record as Miles moves toward a different sound. “Kilimanjaro” comes before “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew.” Change was in the air before people knew that change was in the air. And on this 1967 recording you can feel that something is going change. There are going to be new developments and new directions (This suit that Miles is wearing above is about to get tossed in the trash. Leather pants, scarves, crazy sunglasses, and mesh tank tops are on the horizon!). It’s almost as if they’ve pushed the music as far as it could go. And this new live document really illustrates this quest for exploration. It’s a pretty sweet set. And I bet the DVD will be pretty cool too. My wife has put it on my Christmas list. Got more money than me? Pre-order your copy here.

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