In any kind of art form, music including, there are pathfinders who probe new territory and establish new trails, and this breed of people is indeed of a rare kind than the many who follow behind and eventually benefit from their trailblazing. One such pathfinder in the 20th century music was the great Miles Davis
.Throughout his entire career, Miles was propelled in strange new musical ways which in turn galvanized not only jazz, but contemporary music as well. Unlike some of his predecessors or contemporaries he did not posses the virtuosity or composing qualities as Dizzy Gillespie
, Charles Mingus
or Duke Ellington
, but he was blessed with a vision and foresightMiles was capable of turning the intangible into tangible and he left his signature in more genres than any other jazz musician before or after him.
Regardless of people's reactions to a given new work, Miles was always admired for pushing into the unknown, for being the innovator and for not resting on the laurels from the past. The first time he did that was with his nonet, eventually the whole material was released as Birth of The Cool
(Capitol, 1957), when he changed the pace of Charlie Parker's frenetic bebop into a new, smoother style that eventually opened new doors and jazz embarked on a different path of exploration. The second time he did that was with Kind of Blue,
a record that introduced modal jazz and is widely considered one of the masterworks in the canon of jazz. Released in 1959, a landmark year for historically important jazz releases, it is still one of the most essential landmark jazz albums ever.
Sick of years of listening to relentless soloing based on chords crammed one next to each other, Miles decided to risk with several modal sketches. The album's precise beauty is made more miraculous by the fact that Davis entered the studio with only a few partial scales and one or two chords written down as guidelines for the musicians. With what still is one of the greatest jazz combos ever, Davis fashioned a record with pristine quality which seemed to float. It is actually on this project that the Olympian reputation of this sextet rests upon. Kind of Blue
is considered the greatest jazz recording of the century, simply because of its perfect elegance and symmetry. No self-indulgence was allowed on this recording. All of the contributions, starting from pianist Bill Evans
celestial harmonies, to the saxophonists' Coltrane and Adderley soloings only served to illuminate Miles' zen-like approach on this record that relied on simplicity. That simplicity assimilated the player's individual spontaneity into a unique and sacred mood. After all it was recorded in a in Columbia's famed 30th Street Studio, a converted Greek Orthodox Church. The magic also occurred in the symbiosis and the interactions, as well as the balance it produced. Everything clicks at the same frequency and everything works. All of the five tunes starting from "So What" until "Flamenco Sketches" are haunting and ultimately enchanting. They reveal warmth and craftsmanship to Miles' strategies that rely upon the band's individual strengths. It finds Miles at his most contemplative which contributes to seeing these tunes more like dreamy tone poems rather than defined compositions. Miles' trumpet is distinct and emits unabashed beauty. It is sensitive, minimalistic, and unique. But apart from that he acts like a conductor directing his orchestra. In much of this music, shadow and light interact with quiet intensity as he balances the familiar with the unfamiliar. Simply put, Kind of Blue
is an extraordinary example of the reach and breadth of this jazz combo at the peak of its powers.
Writer Ashley Khan's brilliant book Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece
offers great insight into the creation of this timeless masterpiece and reveals the rich world that revolves around it. More than 50 years since it was recorded it still arrests with its unobtrusive beauty and since then its influence has been spreading deep and wide, affecting people beyond the jazz world. Many people from the classical, rock and ambient music have stated the influence of this record on their work. It is still the best selling jazz record of all time and many people are still discovering its music. The 2014 remastered vinyl reissue presents an ear candy by allowing many of the subtleties and the warmth come to the fore with spectacular clarity. This pressing blows away any other format of the same record with detail, scale and dynamics -there really is no other way to listen to this music except on vinyl.
There are very few moments in jazz history in which one can mark a clear before and after, where almost everything changed, and Miles Davis certainly did his share several times during his lifetime. Kind of Blue
is certainly a moment in history that changed the course of this music and opened new possibilities. In a world where path finding geniuses are very few he stands as one of the indisputably great men of music in the 20th century.