Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool

Jim Santella By

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As Miles Davis has indicated in his autobiography, he was breaking away from Bird and bebop, and finding his own voice, when he formed the nonet. Davis was attempting to take the sound of an orchestra (such as Duke Ellington's or Claude Thornhill's) and produce the same sound with only nine instruments: trumpet, alto sax, baritone sax, French horn, trombone, tuba, piano, bass, and drums. Gil Evans' basement apartment on 55th Street in New York City was a gathering place for those who would eventually follow Davis' leadership to the Royal Roost, where the nonet was to perform for Symphony Sid's radio broadcasts. Thus, the recorded output of Davis' landmark nonet, taken in 1949 and 1950, was released in February, 1957 as a 12-inch LP by Capitol, called "The Birth Of The Cool;" individual 78 rpm recordings had been released earlier. This compact disc was released in 1989 and contains the very same eleven tracks plus a twelfth, "Darn That Dream," with vocalist Kenny Hagood. The quality of the recorded sound is adequate and offers one the opportunity to hear the landmark changes Davis was making in jazz as they happened.

In the liner notes, Pete Welding credits the nonet with providing the inspiration and laying a foundation for: the West Coast jazz movement, Shorty Rogers and his Giants, Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartet with Chet Baker, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. With arrangements by Mulligan, Davis, Gil Evans, John Lewis, and Johnny Carisi, the nonet achieved a large orchestral color, had a more subtle approach to rhythm than bop, and attempted a more seamless integration between the arranged and the improvised music.

The tuba of Bill Barber teams with Mulligan's baritone sax for the opening riff of the recording on a John Lewis arrangement of Denzil Best's "Move." This teaming recurs throughout the sessions and successfully brings the tuba back to modern jazz. Gerry Mulligan's "Jeru" offers a fine example of the music's unique differences from bebop with Davis' and Mulligan's longer smoother solos. The slower Gil Evans arrangement of "Moon Dreams" offers a fine example of the full orchestra effect. Davis' composition and arrangement of "Deception" features the trumpeter as well as a worthy solo from J.J. Johnson; the arrangement is complex and would seem to require extra rehearsal time. Lee Konitz is heard on Johnny Carisi's "Israel" as a solo voice as well as part of the blend that makes one think the saxophones are a complete section. Max Roach's solo work on "Budo" and John Lewis' solo work on "Rouge" are merely good examples of their contributions throughout the sessions. With the full band sounds from piano, saxophones, tuba, and drummer Max Roach backing him on "Darn That Dream," vocalist Kenny Hagood weaves an Ellington mood. Mulligan's arrangements of "Venus De Milo," "Rocker," and "Godchild" evoke the image of a large danceband, and the classic composition "Boplicity" seems to offer the epitome of the "cool" sound. Penned by Gil Evans and Miles Davis, the piece combines a hint of bebop from John Lewis and J.J. Johnson, a little cool-handed solo work from Konitz, Davis and Mulligan, as well as full tonal colors and unique section work arranged by Gil Evans.

Title: Birth Of The Cool | Year Released: 1997 | Record Label: Capitol Records


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