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Miles Davis: Milestones

C. Michael Bailey By

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Milestones was Miles Davis' third Columbia release after 'Round About Midnight (1957) and Miles Ahead (1957). The recording was made during one of Davis' most creatively intense periods, preceding his recording of the soundtrack for Ascenseur Pour L'echafaud (Fontana, 1958) in late 1957 and the subsequent recordings of Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else (Blue Note, 1958) and the repertoire that would become Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959).

Milestones is significant as a creative hinge period between Davis' bebop/hard bop period and his future modal period. The recording represented the formal expansion of his famous first quintet into a sextet with the addition of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, a band considered by many to be the finest small jazz ensemble in history. Milestones was to be the only studio recording made by this sextet, as the lineup changed considerable over the next months approaching the Kind of Blue sessions. Davis' famous innovative restlessness had not yet reached the fever pitch it would during the second great quintet, but it was beginning to properly manifest. It seemed as if Davis was doubling down on his contributions to bebop ("Dr. Jackle" and "Two Bass Hit") and hard bop ("Sid's Ahead" and "Straight, No Chaser").

At this same time, Davis slides "Milestones" under the door, his first extension into modal composition, a method he would improve upon on Kind of Blue and perfect in the recordings of his second great quintet. The juxtaposition of, say, this superbly hard bop-rendered recording of Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" with the sleek and modern refined "Milestones" is acute. It is the past and the future, side-by-side. "Milestones" is based on 16 bars of G Dorian mode, followed by 16 bars in A Aeolian, and then back to a final eight bars in G Dorian which is then repeated as a standard jazz chorus. Only the horns solo on the recording, a blues-infused Adderley, an angular and evasive Davis, and finally a probing Coltrane. The song is sharply composed and performed, a definite evolution in Davis' music sounding only one or two steps ahead, but ahead nevertheless. A harbinger of what is to come Milestones remains that elusive and enigmatic masterpiece.

Critic's Note: Anno Domini 2017, marks the 100th Anniversary of recorded jazz, deftly noted by the release of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's shellac "Dixieland Jass Band One-Step (A)/Livery Stable Blues (B)," Victor 18255, recorded February 26, 1917 and released March 7, 1917. Just for perspective, in 1917, my father was 18 months old and my mother was yet to be born for two years. It is also the twentieth anniversary of me writing for All About Jazz. The first recording I reviewed for the magazine was Art Pepper's San Francisco Samba (Contemporary, 1997), published December 1, 1997. I am using this present review as part of a series noting my twentieth anniversary with the magazine and paying special tribute to my fellow writers at All About Jazz and Publisher Michael Ricci.

Track Listing: Dr. Jackle; Sid’s Ahead; Two Bass Hit; Milestones; Billy Boy; Straight, No Chaser; Two Bass Hit (alternate take); Milestones (alternate take); Straight, No Chaser (alternated take).

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet, piano; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Cannonball Adderley: alto saxophone; Red Garland: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Philly Joe Jones: drums.

Title: Milestones | Year Released: 1958 | Record Label: Columbia Records


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