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Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue CD (album) cover


Miles Davis


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.34 | 1050 ratings

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5 stars In the first two months of the year 1959 several significant things occurred. Alaska became the 49th state of the union, Fidel Castro became the head honcho in Cuba and, on February 3rd, Buddy Holly (along with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper) perished in a plane crash in Iowa. It was a tragic event, to be sure, and a popular song it later inspired caused it to become known as "the day the music died." If that's so it didn't stay inert for long. Early in March Miles Davis took his immensely talented sextet into the studio for the first of two sessions that would forever alter the direction of not just jazz but music in general. One might rightly refer to 3/2/59 as the "day the music rose again" in a new form. We all know that perfection is impossible to achieve this side of heaven but Miles and his posse came awfully close on "Kind of Blue." There's a reason that albums such as this one are so universally revered and honored. It is a masterpiece. In my book that word means something that cannot be improved upon. This record can't.

Davis and his band had gained substantial recognition as one of the elite hard bop combos on the scene but one glance at the group's stellar personnel will tell you that none of the members would've ever been content to stand still. Miles and pianist Bill Evans had been toying with a less formal, more modal style of jazz for a while but "Kind of Blue" was the first full immersion into that compositional concept. What they accomplished is so transcendent, so sublime, so spiritually uplifting as to be indescribable. But I'll give it a shot and, if my humble review by any measure will lead you to give this album an unbiased listen, then I'll feel that I did a good deed today.

From the moment Paul Chambers' sly, subtle double bass riff punctuated by a trio of delicate horns reaches out and arrests your undivided attention you're captivated by the enduring magic of "So What." Davis' trumpet solo and the sax rides that follow it from giants Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and John Coltrane run the entire gamut of human emotions and effectively transport you to another plane of existence. In the end Evans' piano and Chambers' bass conjure up exactly what's needed to gently draw you back to reality. At this point you know you're in the presence of true geniuses. In the bluesy "Freddy the Freeloader" the complex performances delivered atop the framework of its remarkable simplicity epitomize the very heart of jazz improvisation. One is also struck by the incredibly relaxed atmosphere they've brought into the sterile confines of the studio. This sort of aura can't be manufactured, it either happens or it doesn't, but when it manifests itself as it does here it's a wonder to behold. Drink from it. Bathe in it. Miles, Cannonball and John each touch the fringes of nirvana with their individual solos and you'll have to stifle the urge to applaud them as they finish and back out of the spotlight one at a time. The mood they sustain during "Blue in Green" is so sultry and melancholy as to qualify as an aural definition of those words. Bill's piano is so graceful and expressive it makes your eyes get misty and the way the trumpet and both saxophones tiptoe across the top is mesmerizing. This piece of music would be right at home in a smoky bar or in a fancy concert hall. Its ability to unlock the dark, hidden rooms of your soul and fill them with the healing power of music is amazing.

The second half of the album was recorded seven weeks later but it sounds as if not a nanosecond of time elapsed in the interim because there's no change in the creative climate to be detected at all. Davis' classic "All Blues" approaches like a slow train in the distance as the sextet's unique combination of gifted horn players implant the tune's classic melody directly into your subconscious where it plants a flag. The never-intrusive Jimmy Cobb's drums give this number a living, breathing swing groove that fuels some of the best individual solos you'll ever hear. Miles, Cannonball, John and Bill soar freely like eagles in a crisp autumn sky and to be able to sit with one's eyes closed, absorbing their art without interruption, is one of the joys of existence. The technique of applying a muting device to a trumpet's bell has never been more properly displayed or wielded as skillfully as Davis does on "Flamenco Sketches." Listening to the band perform this song is like watching great painters at work side by side, creating a stunning impressionistic mural with every color imaginable. While you're caught up in the majesty of this astounding tune you get the feeling that there's no place you'd rather be at the moment than in the same room (figuratively, of course) with these virtuosos. This caliber of jazz can alter your frame of mind and instantly transport you to a better world. The disc I own has an alternative take of this number and, while it's not quite as wistful, it still stands on its own with no asterisk necessary. It goes to show how playing "in the moment" was more important to this ensemble than dutifully following some prescribed chart of chords and directions. It's the same song in structure but it possesses a wholly different ambience and feel.

As I tap out this essay on the 53rd anniversary of the initial session I stand in awe of how a handful of flesh and bones musicians could make so huge an impact in the evolution of music. This record marks a definitive turning point in its glorious history. What makes it even more miraculous is that Miles Davis gave his cohorts the barest of instructions about what they were to play, desiring only that they summon every ounce of their creativity and let it flow into the music unencumbered by the regimen of a score. Usually a first-of-its-ilk album has some rough edges. Not this one. No wonder "Kind of Blue" is one of the top-selling jazz records of all time and considered a vital cornerstone disc in any collection. The number of musicians influenced by this album is incalculable. Its strains can be heard in all genres, from rock & roll to modern classical movements and will continue to reverberate throughout the music trends of generations to come. Is it the greatest jazz album? That's up to the individual to decide but there's no denying that it is far beyond reproach and deserves to be held in the highest of esteem by all mankind.

Chicapah | 5/5 |


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