studio album by American trumpeter and composer Miles Davis, released on July 22, 1968, by Columbia Records.
Miles in the Sky was produced by Teo Macero and recorded at Columbia Studio B in New York City on January 16, 1968, and May 15–17, 1968. For the album, Davis played with tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Tony Williams, and bassist Ron Carter. Guitarist George Benson made a guest appearance on the song "Paraphernalia". The album's title was a nod to the Beatles' 1967 song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
With the 1968 album Miles in the Sky, Miles Davis
explicitly pushed his second great quintet away from conventional jazz,
pushing them toward the jazz-rock hybrid that would later become known
as fusion. Here, the music is still in its formative stages, and it's a
little more earth-bound than you might expect, especially following on
the heels of the shape-shifting, elusive Nefertiti. On Miles in the Sky, much of the rhythms are straightforward, picking up on the direct 4/4 beats of rock, and these are illuminated by Herbie Hancock's electric piano -- one of the very first sounds on the record, as a matter of fact -- and the guest appearance of guitarist George Benson
on "Paraphernalia." All of these additions are tangible and
identifiable, and they do result in intriguing music, but the form of
the music itself is surprisingly direct, playing as extended grooves.
This meanders considerable more than Nefertiti,
even if it is significantly less elliptical in its form, because it's
primarily four long jams. Intriguing, successful jams in many respects,
but even with the notable additions of electric instruments, and with
the deliberately noisy "Country Son," this is less visionary than its
predecessor and feels like a transitional album -- and, like many
transitional albums, it's intriguing and frustrating in equal measures.
Listening to Jazz music is such a surreal experience. The atmosphere is
often full of intensity, and what I mean by "intense", I'm not
necessarily referring to the sound of the music but the artist that is
creating it. The compositions are often improvised, and the musicians
seem to disappear into a different realm. And within this realm, the
only thing that exists is the musician and their instrument. They
develop a synergy with their instrument, it becomes a part of them.
Another form of communication. The instrument becomes a window into
their soul, their mind, and their creativity. And the sounds that are
released are like another form of expression, the kind of sensations
that no arrangement of words could ever describe. Miles Davis knows this
experience all too well.
The 1960's was certainly an interesting era in time. There was this urge
for experimentation that just captivated everyone. Segregation had just
come to an end as white individuals and minorities were beginning to
experiment with coalescent communities. Hedonism was also growing in
trend, as the usage of drugs and sexual promiscuity was beginning to be
seen in a less condemning light. Obviously, this would grow to have a
tremendous effect on music. Music began to become much more abstract.
Musicians began seeing music as much more than just something to listen
to, but something to get lost in. Artists begun to push music into
different directions, becoming much more experimental. The late 60's was
a transitional period in Miles Davis' career, as he too fell into this
urge for something different. Miles In The Sky is now seen as the
stepping stone into a new era for Miles Davis. Miles In The Sky
introduces a growing interest in the usage of electric instruments, such
as the keyboard, bass, and guitar. This album is often seen as the
first from his "Electric" period. The compositions of the album come
from different sessions, and we can truly see the stages of Miles Davis'
evolution from acoustic Jazz to Fusion music. Again, this album was
just the first step, and the electric touches are not as prominent as in
the latter albums.
We begin with "Stuff". Already we can hear the usage of an
electric bass and a Rhodes piano within the composition. The piano
arrangements are fast paced, yet the drumming and wind instruments show a
little more restrain, though often erupting into a more passionate
delivery in variation. Overall, this is still the Bop-styled Miles we
have heard before. "Black Comedy" and "Country Son" represent the acoustic section of the album, and are some of Miles' final orchestrations using an acoustic quintet format. "Black Comedy" is very lively and aggressive in nature, while "Country Son" displays a more atmospheric tone. But now let us move on to the perhaps most well-known composition from the album, "Paraphernalia". The composition displays one of the first electrical guitar arrangements in Miles' music. "Paraphernalia"
turns bop inside-out, with intense eruption of solos appearing and
vanishing in a modal or free space, and interludes of quick changes on
every beat, not as accompaniment for solos, but just stated on its own.
There is such intense musicianship within Miles In The Sky. Of course,
Miles is the star of the show, but I must mention the drumming of Tony
Williams. He was merely a teenager when he first joined Miles Davis'
Second Great Quartet, but his dexterity for the instrument is
astonishing. He was 23 during the recording for this album, and his feel
for the drums is such a mind-blowing performance. Despite its abstract
cover art and its name, "Miles In The Sky", this album doesn't contain
the psychedelic atmospheres that are found in Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way.
In fact, this album is often overlooked and it's a shame because this
is perhaps one of Miles' most historic releases. Not only because it
marked the beginning of Miles' "Electric era", but this was one of the
defining albums for Jazz Fusion. This was a release that would not only
grow to influence the Jazz world, but even transcend to inspire several
rock artists. This is an album that must be heard by Jazz fans,
especially any admirer of Miles Davis.
Miles in the Sky is an odd outsider among Miles' fusion work. For starters, only one song has guitar and nothing like the jagged skronk of John McLaughlin, although Herbie Hancock's electric piano places this somewhere in the domain of fusion. However, unlike Miles' better-known fusion, Miles in the Sky
is largely clear of dissonance, and unlike Herbie's well-known fusion
work, it also has little in the way of funk to its rhythms. It is
generally a tight, smooth album. It never feels like the party (or wild
anarchy) that most of its peer albums do. It's classic hot jazz in
energy, without much in the way of melodies. Rhythm is the real key.
So in my initial forays into jazz, I found Miles in the Sky
quite daunting in that it had little to hang onto. It was too pure and
streamlined a piece, without the terror of fusion to come or the
melodies and deep grooves of the hard bop behind it. It feels like it
all takes place within some dark negative space, and it is the tentative
toe in the water to Miles' fusion era. It feels as if it is trapped
between worlds or dimensions. There is a focus here that seems anathema
to the progress to come, a directional thrust to the rhythmic build of
the songs to an endpoint. It is pretty much Tony Williams' album. Miles is clearly leading the pack, and Ron Carter's
bass grooves are undeniably significant, but it's Tony's extremely
hyperactive drumming that drives every moment of each song, especially
"Paraphernalia" with its ever-shifting tempos. Meanwhile, Herbie's piano
is always threatening to go somewhere mysterious (there's even a part
in "Paraphernalia" where I swear he's about to do "The Girl From
Ipanema"), and on "Black Comedy" threatens to steal Williams' thunder.
An interesting step into a new space, but no competition for the mountains of madness to follow.
1. Stuff (16:58)
2. Paraphernalia (12:36)
3. Black Comedy (7:25)
4. Country Son (13:49)
5. Black Comedy (Alternate Take) (6:26)
6. Country Son (Alternate Take) (14:40)
Total Time 71:49
Miles Davis – trumpet, cornet on "Stuff" and "Country Son"
Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone
Herbie Hancock – piano, electric piano on "Stuff"
Ron Carter – bass, electric bass on "Stuff"
Tony Williams – drums
George Benson – electric guitar on "Paraphernalia"