Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In Review---Archival Miles Davis' Kind of Blue

Miles Davis
Kind of Blue

Columbia (1959)

It is now over 20 years ago that I hosted my first community radio show in Bellingham, Washington. My first live show featured jazz, during time when alternative rock was the only music to hit the spot with me. Needless to say, I didn't know anything about jazz other than the music my mother played around my childhood homes.

Yet, it did not take me too long before I discovered the wealth of talent associated with American jazz. Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and Bitches' Brew were staples for my show, and the rest of the show sadly was made up of me giving blind faith to whatever jazz records I could pull out of the bins before my show. And I had not listened to those artists previously nor did I know anything about the artists. That would come much later, but jazz was indeed shouting at me.

Today I am rediscovering Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and the end result causes me to walk around my apartment snapping my fingers and taking in all of these great vibes. The musicians that appear on this "improvisational" album are well-known, if not legendary by now. Miles Davis plays trumpet, of course, and he's joined by John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on alto saxophone (except track 3), Wynton Kelly on piano (track 2), Bill Evans on piano for all the other tracks, Paul Chambers holding down bass and Jimmy Cobbs on drums.

The album starts out with one of my favorite instrumental jazz tracks, So What, which might or not be a musical snide remark. It hits the spot nonetheless. Freddie Freeloader follows with Miles blowing crystal clear notes on his horn. And while he's hardly a freeloader, he grabs the spotlight on this track and then let's Coltrane take it away. And yes, this is another one of those tunes that causes listeners to snap their fingers. I feel like I should be reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

Blue in Green slows down the pace. This track feels steamy and romantic with an after hours sheen. Again, Miles' horn playing is in top form balanced by Evans on piano and Chambers on bass. This tune reminds me of hanging out in a posh restaurant during closing time when the sun begins to rise and memories of the past night linger. And that is one of the wonderful attributes of this recording, in that it allows your imagination to roam and create images for a carefully provided soundtrack.

The longest track, All Blues, recalls Sketches of Spain with its muted trumpet and syncopated rhythms. Then we get two versions of Flamenco Sketches (only one of them appeared on the original release). Miles even dresses like a Spaniard during the recording sessions. If you look at the vintage photographs of the sessions, you will see Miles wearing high waist trousers sporting his narrow waist and he wears a scarf tied around his neck with a button down shirt. Certainly he was feeling the Spanish spirit.

Overall, these musicians provide a grounded experience while improvising Miles' solid compositions, sketches or not. These recordings capture the musicians' in the moment, and during a time when many numerous innovations were occurring in American jazz. Now we know the musicians as legends; the CD a well-loved classic.

For those of you who enjoy multi-tasking, you can read the liner notes on the re-issued CD, (1997), which includes some insights by Bill Evans. He writes, "Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to spontaneity in these performances. The group has never played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without exception the first complete performance of each was a 'take.'"

I don't know about you, but I need to add this recording to my collection. At the moment, it is on loan from the library down the street. I listen to it and I don't feel blue at all. Although it might just be the cure for the blues.

For more information about Miles Davis, go to