Saturday, September 23, 2017

Miles Davis - 1960 [1997] "Sketches Of Spain"

Sketches of Spain is an album by Miles Davis, recorded between November 1959 and March 1960 at the Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York City. An extended version of the second movement of Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) is included, as well as a piece called "Will o' the Wisp", from Manuel de Falla's ballet El amor brujo (1914–1915). Sketches of Spain is regarded as an exemplary recording of Third Stream, a musical fusion of jazz, European classical, and styles from world music.

The album pairs Davis with arranger and composer Gil Evans, with whom he had collaborated on several other projects, on a program of compositions largely derived from the Spanish folk tradition. Evans explained:

[We] hadn't intended to make a Spanish album. We were just going to do the Concierto de Aranjuez. A friend of Miles gave him the only album in existence with that piece. He brought it back to New York and I copied the music off the record because there was no score. By the time we did that, we began to listen to other folk music, music played in clubs in Spain... So we learned a lot from that and it ended up being a Spanish album. The Rodrigo, the melody is so beautiful. It's such a strong song. I was so thrilled with that.

The opening piece, taking up almost half the record, is an arrangement by Evans and Davis of the adagio movement of Concierto de Aranjuez, a concerto for guitar by the contemporary Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. Following the faithful introduction of the concerto's guitar melody on flugelhorn, Evans' arrangement turns into a "quasi-symphonic, quasi-jazz world of sound", according to his biographer. The middle of the piece contains a "chorus" by Evans unrelated to the concerto but "echoed" in the other pieces on the album. The original melody then reappears in a darker mode.

Davis plays flugelhorn and later trumpet, attempting to connect the various settings musically. Davis commented at rehearsal, "The thing I have to do now is make things connect, make them mean something in what I play around it". Davis thought the concerto's adagio melody was "so strong" that "the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets", and Evans concurred.

According to Davis' biographer Chambers, the contemporary critical response to the arrangement was not surprising, especially given the scarcity of anything resembling a jazz rhythm in most of the piece. Martin Williams wrote that "the recording is something of a curiosity and a failure, as I think a comparison with any good performance of the movement by a classical guitarist would confirm". The composer Rodrigo was also not impressed, but royalties from the arrangement brought him "a lot of money", according to Evans.

In a contemporary review for Down Beat, Bill Mathieu hailed Sketches of Spain as one of the 20th century's most important musical works so far and a highly intellectual yet passionate record. He found Evans' compositions extremely well-crafted and Davis' playing intelligently devised, concluding in his review, "if there is to be a new jazz, a shape of things to come, then this is the beginning." Replying to suggestions that Sketches of Spain was something other than jazz, Davis said "it's music, and I like it". In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), J. D. Considine called it "a work of unparalleled grace and lyricism", while Q magazine said it "took orchestral jazz in a new direction". Robert Christgau was less enthusiastic about the record and recalled being a young listener when it was released: "In 1960 [it] catapulted Davis into the favor of the kind of man who reads Playboy and initiated in me one phase of the disillusionment with jazz that resulted in my return to rock and roll".

For Sketches of Spain, Evans and Davis won the 1961 Grammy Award for Best Original Jazz Composition. In 2003, the album was ranked number 358 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. According to Acclaimed Music, it is the 419th most frequently ranked record on critics' all-time lists.

Along with Kind of Blue, In a Silent Way, and Round About Midnight, Sketches of Spain is one of Miles Davis' most enduring and innovative achievements. Recorded between November 1959 and March 1960 -- after Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley had left the band -- Davis teamed with Canadian arranger Gil Evans for the third time. Davis brought Evans the album's signature piece, "Concierto de Aranjuez," after hearing a classical version of it at bassist Joe Mondragon's house. Evans was as taken with it as Davis was, and set about to create an entire album of material around it. The result is a masterpiece of modern art. On the "Concierto," Evans' arrangement provided an orchestra and jazz band -- Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and Elvin Jones -- the opportunity to record a classical work as it was. The piece, with its stunning colors and intricate yet transcendent adagio, played by Davis on a flügelhorn with a Harmon mute, is one of the most memorable works to come from popular culture in the 20th century. Davis' control over his instrument is singular, and Evans' conducting is flawless. Also notable are "Saeta," with one of the most amazing technical solos of Davis' career, and the album's closer, "Solea," which is conceptually a narrative piece, based on an Andalusian folk song, about a woman who encounters the procession taking Christ to Calvary. She sings the narrative of his passion and the procession -- or parade -- with full brass accompaniment moving along. Cobb and Jones, with flamenco-flavored percussion, are particularly wonderful here, as they allow the orchestra to indulge in the lushly passionate arrangement Evans provided to accompany Davis, who was clearly at his most challenged here, though he delivers with grace and verve. Sketches of Spain is the most luxuriant and stridently romantic recording Davis ever made. To listen to it in the 21st century is still a spine-tingling experience, as one encounters a multitude of timbres, tonalities, and harmonic structures seldom found in the music called jazz.

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Sketches of Spain wasn't the first jazz adaptation of a classical composition. A.B. Spellman, you know that Duke Ellington did it a few times. Art Tatum and Fats Waller loved playing the classics in the jazz style, as did many stride pianists and other jazz musicians over the years. But Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis and Gil Evans is different.

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: I agree, Murray. Sketches of Spain holds a unique place in the pantheon of jazz classics. On the opening cut, Gil Evans maintains a true fidelity to the original composition, which is "Concierto De Aranjuez." The mood that he establishes makes us feel like we're on a hill in Andalusia, watching the goings-on's of a gypsy camp. At the same time, there's this cool-bop lyricism that's all Miles Davis with its tone bubbles blasting around the place and all.

Track Listing:

  1. Concierto de Aranjuez: Adagio
  2. Will O' the Wisp
  3. The Pan Piper
  4. Saeta
  5. Solea
  6. Song of Our Country
  7. Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)
  8. Concierto de Aranjuez

Personnel:

Arranged By, Conductor [Orchestra] – Gil Evans
Bass – Paul Chambers (3)
Bass Clarinet – Danny Bank
Bassoon – Jack Knitzer
Clarinet, Oboe – Harold Feldman (tracks: 1, 8)
Drums – Jimmy Cobb
Flugelhorn – Miles Davis (tracks: 1, 8)
Flute – Al Block, Eddie Caine (tracks: 1, 8), Harold Feldman (tracks: 2 to 7)
French Horn – Earl Chapin (tracks: 1, 8), Jimmy Buffington*, John Barrows (tracks: 1, 8), Joe Singer* (tracks: 2 to 7), Tony Miranda (tracks: 2 to 7)
Harp – Janet Putnam
Oboe – Romeo Penque
Percussion – Elvin Jones, Jose Mangual
Trombone – Frank Rehak, Dick Hixon*
Trumpet – Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Johnny Coles (tracks: 2 to 7), Louis Mucci*, Miles Davis, Taft Jordan (tracks: 1, 8)
Tuba – Bill Barber (tracks: 2 to 7), Jimmy McAllister* (tracks: 1, 8)

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