Miles Davis was an innovator from the moment he first picked up the trumpet. But for years, the public didn't have a clear enough picture of Davis' journey from jazz into the rock/funk sounds of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix as well as his use of electric instruments.
At the time, all the public knew of was the funk groove and electric piano sounds of "Stuff" from Miles in the Sky, followed by more electric sounds on Filles de Kilimanjaro, leading to In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Some songs recorded during this time had been shelved until years later.
Now, Columbia/Legacy has released The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions, an impressive three-disc set that brings Davis' new direction into focus. The collection includes several unreleased tracks recorded from September 1968-February 1969.
Kicking off with two songs that ended up on Filles de Kilimanjaro, the box set chronicles the demise of 1960s quintet of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams, leading to an expanded line-up of Shorter, Hancock, Williams, Chick Corea on electric piano, Joe Zawinul on electric organ, Dave Holland on bass, and (on separate tracks) Jack DeJohnette and Joe Chambers on drums.
Reissue co-producer Bob Belden provides exhaustive liner notes describing Davis' transitional period into jazz/rock, including a helpful guide to the three songs that were heavily edited by producer Teo Macero for the In a Silent Way album.
The album version of "Shhh/Peaceful" is heavily chopped, placing a Davis solo heard at the end of the first version near the beginning, then repeating it note for note at the end. Some of the edits aren't that subtle, either.
After hearing the unissued version, one wonders why that wasn't used. But, through Macero's tinkering, he created a sonata form: state the melody (Davis' solo), expand on it, then restate the melody. Macero also makes a sonata form for "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time" (book-ending the rock-laced "It's About That Time" with the ethereal "In a Silent Way," which also appears as a rehearsal take with Williams providing a bossa beat).
"The Ghetto Walk," a previously unreleased tune, is a precursor to what Davis would employ on Bitches Brew : a song (clocking in at more than 20 minutes) revolved around a simple bass riff while the other musicians jammed with no set structure.
From the driving rock force of "Directions" to the Hendrix-influenced "Mademoiselle Mabry" and the shimmering elegance of "Ascent," Davis and company were heading into the uncharted waters of music. They may have been looked upon with confused eyes when In a Silent Way was released, but the passage of time sheds a better light on their work.
Track List:Disc One: Mademoiselle Mabry; Frelon Brun; Two Faced; Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams Process; Splash; Splashdown; Disc Two: Ascent; Directions I; Directions II; Shhh/Peaceful; In a Silent Way (rehearsal); In a Silent Way; It's About That Time; Disc Three: The Ghetto Walk; Early Minor; Shhh/Peaceful (LP version); In a Silent Way/It's About That Time (a. In a Silent Way, b. It's About That Time, c. In a Silent Way) (LP version)
Personnel: Miles Davis, trumpet; Wayne Shorter, tenor and soprano sax; Chick Corea, electric piano; Herbie Hancock, electric piano; Joe Zawinul, electric piano and organ; Dave Holland, bass; Tony Williams, drums; Jack DeJohnette, drums, tambourine; Teo Macero, tambourine; John McLaughlin, electric guitar; Joe Chambers, drums.
Reprinted with permission of The Villages Daily Sun, Lady Lake, Fla.