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Miles Davis: In a Silent Way

Nenad Georgievski By
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Miles Davis: Miles Davis: In a Silent Way
"Miles' audience isn't where it used to be but neither is his music" was used to market the new releases of Miles Davis' indefatigably changing music in the late 60's that caused seismic shifts in the world of jazz and completely had redirected it into new and fresh territories. In a career that stretched five decades Miles Davis did more than just become a star—this enigmatic 20th century icon fused an astonishing array of different musical styles, refused to be musically anchored in one place, broke down racial barriers, while demonstrating that the work of classical composers such as Debussy and Messianen, could be easily absorbed into the great black art of improvisation. It may sound simple, but nevertheless it's still true: He was many different things to many different people.

In the mid-60s, Miles career had peaked with his famed second quintet. At the time many had expected him to continue his days by doing the same thing—to play jazz music and to invent new styles along the way. This quintet brought Davis' characteristic mixture of modal and hard bop techniques to a peak of perfection until the group disbanded in 1968, by which his attention had begun to turn towards radical new paths.

Around that time, the 60's saw radical and exciting changes in the music climate in all genres and styles: rock and soul had won over huge audiences and cultural cachet. In classical music minimalism began to emerge as the new avant-garde with its hypnotic drones and repetition, that shifted away the attention from composer Schoenberg and Serialism. And in jazz, the New Thing, led by Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, also went further: they subverted, altered and changed the strict rules of jazz.

By 1968, Davis was into his 40s and the youth culture had been listening to popular music of the day from Motown soul and funk, to James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, and not so much acoustic contemporary jazz, regardless how good it was. As someone who has never opted for walking the beaten track he did something that the jazz elitists never forgave him: he connected with the youths and delved into the primitive world of rock music and started to incorporate electronic instruments, rock and funk rhythms into his music. He even used to hang out with Hendrix with whom he even planned a collaboration that never materialized because of guitarist's premature death.

Ten years after the watershed Kind of Blue, (Columbia, 1959), that changed the way people looked at jazz, Miles booked a Columbia label's studio but this time with a new concept. That concept was based on his old partner arranger Gil Evan's approach to textures, harmony and layering and he sketched pieces for multiple keyboards and funk rhythm patterns. His usual acoustic combo was augmented by electric pianists Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea. A young guitarist named John McLaughlin, who had recently left London, was brought in by chance, and another Englishman, who was part of Miles' working band, was brought for the sessions, bassist Dave Holland. Over three days they recorded music that lingered between improvisation, composition, funk and rock grooves, and studio sorcery that producer Teo Macero had edited down to two album sides entitled In a Silent Way.

This is the point when Miles left conventional forms of jazz behind altogether, and moved into completely new ground. There are no rules to this music and the ethereal, after-hours mood is similar to that of Kind of Blue. What began as a simmering low-key pot of rhythmically driven sound became an intriguingly beautiful sound painting. "Shh/Peaceful" is a moody and restrained track, slowly opening with whispers of melodies, its textures shifting and blurring. The players pick up on each other, gently carrying the melodies or leaving them to quietly dissolve.

The title track summons all the emotional contemplation from Miles before he dives into the rock maelstrom of the album's closing fifteen minutes. The incredible trumpet sound that carves its way through an avalanche of shimmering keyboards and gentle guitar fills portrays a musician that wasn't afraid to unite black musical styles with the contemporary sounds of the day in his quest for melodic tranquility. And the sound of this this vinyl only reissue is pristine and beautiful, which adds to its allure, and the reissue mastering by engineer Allan Tucker, adds warmth and depth that the CD lacks. A real care has been taken about the sonics of the original record without simply forcing up the loudness and as a result squashing the dynamic range in order to suit the iPod generation.

This music was and still is as much an enigma as its maker. But In a Silent Way can tell people more about Miles Davis than Miles Davis could have. There is no doubt that Miles, as many times in his career, felt enervated, energized and refreshed by the youthful vigor and excitement around him, and the band was obviously eager to earn the maestro's favor.

With it, the concept of jazz fusion had been invented and Miles never glanced back. The record not only triggered the careers of many artists that participated in the making of this music but it also inspired countless of other artists and it nourished music that subsequently led to many crossovers and fusions of musics that are happening to this very day and will be happening for eons to come. In retrospective, it feels less of a seismic shift, and more of a new branch on a tree.


Track Listing: Shhh / Peaceful; In A Silent Way / It's About That Time

Personnel: Miles Davis: Trumptet, Wayne Shorter: Saxophone, Herbie Hancock: Electric Piano, Chick Corea: Electric Piano, Josef Zawinul: Electric Piano and Organ, John McLaughlin: Guitar, Dave Holland: Bass, Tony Williams: Drums

Year Released: 1969 | Record Label: Music On Vinyl | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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