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Miles Davis: Ascenseur pour l'eschafaud

John Kelman By

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With the original soundtrack issued as side one of the 1958 Columbia LP release, Jazz Tracks , the complete session from Miles Davis' soundtrack recording to the 1958 Louis Malle film, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud has been out of print on CD for many years. Now Universal Music France has rectified that situation, reissuing the complete session in a beautiful 24-bit/96 kHz remastered version in a digipack complete with session photos and liner notes. Representing a more intimate and spontaneous side of Miles, the re-release of this session is a welcome event.

Malle was already a jazz fan when Jean-Claude Rappeneau suggested to him that Miles, who was in the France for a brief tour, be asked to record the soundtrack; he readily agreed. By creating a relaxed environment in the studio, where the musicians could view main scenes of the film in a loop and then improvise in response to what they saw, Malle clearly understood that little direction was necessary to Miles.

And Miles, with a sympathetic band, including saxophonist Barney Wilen, pianist Ren' Urtreger, bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Kenny Clarke, was able to create music with his typical minimal guidance. In fact, with the exception of "Sur l'autoroute," which was based on the chords to "Sweet Georgia Brown," Miles provided only the barest sketches of direction. Malle also provided some input, suggesting, for example, a passage of only bass and drums, which was ultimately not used; he also decided, in the final analysis, which takes would be used as final takes.

The whole session took a mere four hours, but the music is magical; with the exception of the brighter, up-tempo "Sur l'autoroute" and "Diner au motel," the pieces are dark and brooding, echoing the noirish feel of the film. A total of twenty-six takes were recorded, with ten tracks being ultimately selected for the film. These tracks were processed with heavy use of reverb and are offered in sequence at the start of the CD so that the listener can experience the soundtrack as it was originally intended (and released on Jazz Tracks ).

Following the finished soundtrack are the various alternate and unprocessed takes, many which are incomplete. But they provide a window into the collective mind of the improvising unit; they stand both as valid pieces of music as well as further insight into what was, for the time, a truly unique creative process.

Fans of the cool side of Miles will be especially interested in Ascenseur pour l'échafaud ; but this recording, which was a landmark at the time, should be of equal interest to fans of soundtrack music, as it represents one of the few times that a true collaborative and improvisational approach was used. And only an artist as confident and focused as Miles could pull such strong performances out of a group that had played very little together; the album is a continuing testimony to Miles' strength as a leader.

Universal Music France on the web.

Track Listing: G�n�rique; L'assassinat de Carala; Sur l'autoroute; Julien dans l'ascenseur; Florence sur les Champs-Elys�es; Diner au motel; Evasion de Julien; Visite du vigile; Au Bar du Petit Bac; Chez le photographe du motel; Nuit sur les Champs-Elys�es (take 1); Nuit sur les Champs-Elys�es (take 2); Nuit sur les Champs-Elys�es (take 3);Nuit sur les Champs-Elys�es (take 4); Assassinat (take 1); Assassinat (take 2); Assassinat (take 3); Motel; FInal (take 1); Final (take 2); Final (take 3); Ascenseur; Le petit bal (take 1); Le petit bal (take 2); S�quence voiture (take 1); S�quence voiture (take 2)

Personnel: Miles Davis (trumpet), Barney Wilen (tenor saxophone), Ren? Urtreger (piano), Pierre Michelot (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums)

Title: Ascenseur pour l'eschafaud | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Universal Music Group


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