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Miles Davis - In a Silent Way CD (album) cover

IN A SILENT WAY

Miles Davis

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.38 | 427 ratings

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bfmuller
5 stars Miles Davis's fusion is a sound to be understood as much as appreciated. When he embraced it, he was already so prolific, his mind so creative, his style so appealing, that he defied labels and boundaries. But with fusion, the controversy begins. To some, it was just a natural turn for such a restless artist. To many, many others it is like he died in 1969. Or maybe possessed by some malign demon. That was around the time IN A SILENT WAY was released.

Miles's fusion is not for everyone, and might be detracted by both rock and jazz fans. But so is the case of progressive rock, anyway. In the end, it is a matter of realising the significance and impact of a musical genre, and it's legacy. Fusion's was huge. And it owes a great deal to Miles Davis.

There is a small controversy about where Miles's fusion adventure begins. It is true that he had already welcomed electric instruments in Miles in the Sky, and that it had tracks with a rock beat, as well. But fusion, as I see, is not just that.

There may be also some argument about bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra being jazz-rock or progressive rock. I leave it to the experts. Miles Davis, however, is truly FUSION. Neither jazz, nor rock, not even a simple blend in of such ingredients. A whole new genre. I don't see it as a subgenre of progressive rock, but as part of a trend on experimentalism and pushing the barriers of popular (and classical) music around the end of the Sixties. Sometimes fusion and prog converge. They are related in a certain sense, but still separate entities. It is not jazz either. This statement can be heard in both sides of the divide.

This is all to say that IN A SILENT WAY is the real landmark in fusion music. It is not the first, but it was certainly the most innovative and influential at its time. But that was not for long. For Miles would manage to top himself in another groundbreaking album, just a few months later: Bitches Brew. But this is another review.

There is a much bigger controversy about fusion and Miles's music, as well as his pupils, though: their direction towards both music and audience. Jazz purists split their response from disdain to despise. "Miles sold out".

I never fully understood what that means. That Miles wanted money? Professional musicians (even from lesser known bands), as the name says, make music for a living. So, they all want it in some way. Many of the jazz greats, by the way, managed to overcome poverty with that. On the other hand, Miles came from a middle-to-upper class background. Anyway, as in this world we need to work and earn money to survive, it is not even a matter of "right" or "wrong". It is a job. It is just supposed to be more creative and pleasing than sitting 8 hours a day in an office.

Is it that he wanted large audiences? Again, all professional musicians want and need an audience. Otherwise, they wouldn't be professionals. They might record just for themselves and earn their living somewhere else. The "acceptable" size of the audience is not only debatable, but irrelevant to evaluate the music itself.

Is it that he changed his music to please the listener? He did aim for another kind of audience: the young, and later the young blacks, in particular. But here there is some kind of double standard. Jazz players (and prog rockers) generally make music for a small and often middle and upper class audience. Who's to say that it is more autentic to remain attached to an inner circle then trying to reach the masses? Again, professionals need and want an audience, and even the most "genuine" of them shape their music around this in one way or another. Some musicians are openly proud of the fact that they are appreciated by a small group. And is it not possible to attach to a music style just to procreate this image (be it "indie-rock", "avant-garde" or something else)?

The matter, some say, is if the musician does the music of his/her "heart" or just want to sell records. Are the so-called "indie" or "avant-garde" musicians really being only true to their hearts or merely expressing an elitist feeling (even when the small group is supposedly working class, as in the case of punk rock)? On the other hand, I have seen people like Ian Anderson, who says the music he likes is blues and jazz, and that he's not generally interested in rock music, and makes it just to earn his living. One would say Jethro Tull is less original and hard-edged because of that?

There is another feature that turn up the heated discussions, besides audiences or electric instruments. Yes, Miles's albums from IN A SILENT WAY on ar HEAVILY edited. They weren't recorded in the sequence we hear, there is a lot of "copy" and "paste", and to some that means his music is not genuine, it is fake. What they don't get is that this is another concept of music, another kind of music. That's part of what makes it unique. Miles's producer, Teo Macero, deserves as much credit as Miles himself for this.

But what about IN A SILENT WAY itself? I didn't write too much about it. Make that another argument for the discussion. It is very hard to talk about it (to describe which instrument appears at the fifth or tenth minute, or who does the solo, is not really to "talk about").

One thing I can say. Pay close attention to John McLaughlin soloing through out the album. Magnificent example of jazz lead guitar. John is the most spotted soloist, besides Miles himself. That he gave a guitar player such a role in this recordings (instead of just marking the rythm as in Miles in the Sky and as used to be in jazz in general) it is a statement of intentions. He wanted to change, to create a new sound.

Incidentally, this is the first of a long lasting and long standing collaboration between the two. And John was being already greeted with such generosity. It opened doors and ears to this that is one of the most accomplished guitars players there ever was. He should be very grateful for this. And he is.

Another thing I can say is that the main theme, that opens and closes side two, is one of the most beautiful melodies, with the most heartly beautiful solos I ever heard. And to do him justice, let me add that it was composed by Joe Zawinul, not Miles Davis. But if you ever have the chance, try to listen to the rehearsal of this track in The Complete IN A SILENT WAY Sessions. You'll witness how this beautiful melody turned from a jazz tune to fusion milestone. Then, you'll comprehend the brilliance of Miles as an interpreter and band leader, his role in opening ways to the fusion music and the dimension of this revolutionary change. I don't use the word "revolution" that ofter. Believe me, this is a situation in which it is suitable.

The album cover clearly resembles the one from Kind of Blue. I don't know if that was intended, but, no matter what purists say, the parallel is valid. They were both watersheds for jazz and music in general.

Anyway, besides its originality, IN A SILENT WAY is great music. It is very well defined by the tracks's titles. It is smooth, jazzy, and less edited then the following album. In short, very much unlike the controlled chaos of Bitches Brew. Together, they make a beautiful pair. And that's another important acknowledgement about Miles: he never repeated himself. Anyone who listens carefully to his fusion albums knows they sound very different from one another. They all have a distinct character and a distinct emphasis in music exploration. If that's "selling out"... very few were able to make it in such an uncompromising way.

It is tough to realise it today, but Miles's late Sixties and Seventies music were really intended to the young of that time, even though they sound so strange and far from mainstream to today's ears. But the most important thing is: it withstood the test of time. Even after influencing a whole generation of musicians from the most varied genres, Miles still sounds original and unique. And as so, it will always appeal to the generations to come, although the ears of a majority may turn somewhere else. THAT is what means to be timeless music. All music will, someday, sound dated. Everyone knows that Beethoven wrote music in the 19th Century, for 19th Century audiences. It doesn't matter. They still listen to it today. Miles Davis's is like that.

Just listen to IN A SILENT WAY. And while listening, keep in mind: it's another kind of music. Our musical concepts and standards don't apply to it. If after that you still don't like, it does not prove that it was not good. Or that it's fake.

The controversy, by the way, only adds up to the universal appeal of Miles's work. As long as they're discussing it, it's because they're listening. And because it matters. That conclusion speaks for itself. Play it jazz or fusion, he's a giant. His music, Kind of Timeless. Kind of Genius.

bfmuller | 5/5 |

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