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Miles Davis - Birth of The Cool CD (album) cover


Miles Davis

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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5 stars If you're a fan of Jazz Rock/Fusion but have never really explored the realm of Jazz itself because it seems way too old-fashioned and ancient to your ears then perhaps it's because you've never heard Miles Davis. If what really intrigues you about The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Weather Report is the complexity of how those unbridled, flying notes fit together in some magical way without your really having to understand all the "theory" behind it all then you'll probably dig Miles Davis. If you want to go back to the tail end of the 40s and the first months of the 50s when fearless jazz musicians were starting to change all the established rules, push the envelope of what was "acceptable" and knock down locked doors then "Birth of the Cool" is a great place to begin. A "birth," indeed!

Now, I'm no expert on modern jazz. Far from it. The closest I ever came to being in the presence of seriously dedicated jazz musicians was when I was lucky enough to draw the famous One O'clock Lab Band as my beat for the campus newspaper while attending The University of North Texas in the early 70s. (My job was to sit and listen to them rehearse. Tough assignment, I know!) But I know what I like and I've learned over the years that greatness has no age limits or boundaries. This incredibly talented nonet that Miles put together made music that moves and breathes on its own like some new organism that sprang up spontaneously from all the elements of the earth. If the opening track, "Move," doesn't make you stop what you're doing to listen in wide-eyed wonder to what these nine guys are creating and mixing together then you might as well give the album away. And don't be ashamed if that happens. These challenging multi-horn, piano, upright bass and drumkit arrangements ain't for everybody. The tunes are short by prog standards but they come off more as movements in a symphony than as individual pieces. There's also a real paradox going on here because, while the music is certainly difficult and complicated, there's a sense that the musicians are having the most relaxing, joyful time of their lives because they're finally getting to play what they want to play.

So if you think that music in the mid 20th century was all Glenn Miller, Doo Wop and Elvis then you may want to educate yourself by putting this inside your head. So many of the artists that pioneered the Jazz Rock/Fusion movement either performed with and/or were greatly inspired by Miles Davis that his well-deserved place on this respected progressive music website is a no-brainer. What's really "cool" about this album is that it is truly music for grownups that are still young at heart. It's playful yet it makes you think. A 5 star prog masterpiece from a long, long time ago.

Report this review (#179846)
Posted Sunday, August 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is pure jazz, at least the way I would expect it. Fitting for arriving midway through the 20th century Birth Of The Cool oozes class. Think of smokey hazy jazz nightclubs at 2AM and picture Miles Davis pushing out slick trumpet melodies with Barber (Tuba), Haig ( Piano) and Boyd ( Bass) adding gusto to the melee of sounds. There is nothing remotely progressive here, yet, but if you like the pure sound of jazz with distinct swing added then this is a definite must for any enthiusiasts. The album gets off to a slow start but starts picking up energy with ' Venus de Milo. Budo is also very pleasant on the ears as is Israel. The highlight for me is Rouge where there is perfect interplay between the musicians and noteworthy piano work by Al Haig. The last song is bizaar to say the least and the only track featuring vocals and seems oddly out of place. A landmark album by many for Miles Davis, this is an excellent album showcasing some great jazz.
Report this review (#180678)
Posted Sunday, August 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars |C+| Miles Davis' first true landmark in music history.

The album title says it all - Birth of the Cool was literally the birth of was music historians would dub as "cool jazz," a change that was desperately needed for the survival of jazz. Bebop, as awesome a style as it was for jazz, was probably also the least accessible in terms of popular appeal. Even the attempt of Bebop innovator "Dizzy" to make Bebop accessible to the public fell flat on its face, and jazz seemed to be loosing its audience for good. Mile's Davis changed all of that with this album, which combines the great soloist musicianship and sweeping technical ability of Bebop with the slower, more orchestrated "planned out" style of big band swing, creating a type of jazz that both musicians and audiences alike could appreciate, and itself was quite unique, and is the basis for the form that most classic jazz styled compositions take today - partially composed, partially soloist, with drum patters and walking bass underlying the various horn parts.

What I love, in fact borderline adore, about this album is the pure bliss that is created by the arrangements with all of the horn parts. Miles Davis is indeed one of the most brilliant composers of all time, and nothing shows the potential he would later tap into like this album. Everything is so catchy, so soothing to the ears, so pleasant, yet so exciting when it intends to be. Few arrangements of modern jazz rival what we have in almost every track here, it set the bar early on and jazz composers, even those of today, can only strive to come close to the colossal work that this is, as Mozart's works had done for classical music.

This a progressive album strictly in terms of musical development alone, less so in the sense of the obscurity and intellectualism that we find in truly progressive music. So this essential to the jazz fan alone, as those who are less than jazz enthusiasts may not find much value in this album in terms of metal stimulation, but merely a nice album to hear every once in a while. I for one am I jazz fan and LOVE this album, so I'd strongly recommend it to that crowd alone. For me, it's a solid B+; for this site, a C+; incredibly good, but not essential to your standard progger. If you love jazz, A+, go get this album now!

Report this review (#215071)
Posted Monday, May 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars AMAZING!

Never been a very big fan of jazz, but after listening this, there was some kind of rebirth, (My second rebirth, the first one was by listening to prog. The songs on this album are just what you need every moment of the day, it fits every mood and will help you get through the day. morning = MILES DAVIS, Evening with the girlfriend = MILES DAVIS!

I gave it 5 stars for being not a must have for prog fans, but for being a must have for every musicfan in the whole wide world!

this isn't the best review ever made but says it all, that has to be said about this record.

Report this review (#263025)
Posted Wednesday, January 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Though strictly speaking it's a compilation of old material, the performances on Birth of the Cool were produced in a fairly tight span of time from 1949 to 1950, so this release could also be seen as a rather delayed studio album. Tracks from here had seen single or EP releases earlier, but this is by far the easiest way to get ahold of this material, and it's actually remarkably cohesive. Here, Miles is playing in the Cool Jazz mode, which he would return to on Kind of Blue, making this an interesting port of call to explore if you liked Kind of Blue and want to explore Miles' early material. Most post-70s editions of the album tack on Darn That Dream, a vocal track which doesn't quite seem to fit the rest of the material on here (we're here to hear the man with the horn play, thanks), but even this can't quite obscure the genius of the album.
Report this review (#811550)
Posted Tuesday, August 28, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well I've just found a new version of this album, the above track listing plus 8 bonus cuts on an obscure (to me) label called Crackerjack. Almost certainly it's a low budget label with easily licensed content. However its very nicely done, LP style gate fold jacket, with liner notes in clear, (if still necessarily small monochrome for we ocularly challenged), a detailed soft inner bag - all the accoutrements that record consumers love, at a reasonable price. The inner bag details the line ups for the 1951 bonus studio cuts and the 1948 live recordings.

Keep an eye out in the sales stores, you never know what turns up among the mass produced over-compiled, lowest-common denominator oriented content that now comes across as dross due to the shoddy marketing.

Anyway, so this turned up. I've known this album from a while back, the above compilation. Possibly my memory but this master sounds a little more restrained.

The music is cool jazz with a fantastic series of line ups based around Miles Davis Nonet. Smoky jazz, nightclub beautiful, elegant - the epitome of cool. The music is tightly arranged, flawlessly played and sounds impeccable.

Now one of the things we must do as reviewers is rate things down for yer typical prog rock fan. As prog rock has not been defined and can encompass a fusion fan to Zeuhl and RIO, avant garde, electronica and all things classically oriented so where does the typical come in? I will have the almighty rind to rate the music highly but I do not have the nerve to assume a listener who likes Yes (e.g. me) would like this less because it does not sound like Yes. That's too difficult for a simple soul so I can only point anyone interested in this album to get the thing. Preferably this version that is now nearly 70 minutes long. Others will really enjoy the upgrade on their 35 minute version.

Naturally this has nothing to do do with the hybrid of country and blues i.e. rock. That had yet to be invented and jazz was in it's late forties by now. Oh one thing for the yet to be convinced - there is nothing dated sounding on this. There's plenty of jazz played in the 21st Century such as cool. The recording is not perfect but has been remastered so other than the very occasional mild overloading of a frequency into what are no longer state of the art microphones, this sounds very good indeed. Some bonus cuts are live, others studio.

Of course if you don't like jazz then you're not going to like it no matter what I say. Still, however orchestrated the multi-horn band is, the intimacy of the music is never lost and the melodic standard is as high as the performance value. Just for reviewer reference I prefer smaller band arrangements to big band (just my taste that's all).

The Darn That Dream bonus one of two vocal tracks on either version of this album, the other is a bonus number called You Go To My Head. Which, for someone who is also not overly keen on the jazz croon (too M.O.R. for me) is a relief. N.B. This observation and remark does not apply to Billie Holliday and Frank.

If you do like jazz, and you like Miles (really, are the two exclusive?) this is essential music, in an essential format.

4.5 stars rounded to 4 as it is not prog rock (sounds silly to me - rating something on what it's not is a bit daft but there we go). Five star for music, jazz and the music collection that likes it's content enriched rather than diluted). A slightly better recording (they've done their best with recordings that are in their mid sixties and its a very good best) and some slight (possibly unavailable detail?) for the bonus cut line ups but otherwise this new version of Birth of The Cool is just fine.

Report this review (#1540080)
Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2016 | Review Permalink

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