Thursday, June 21, 2018

Miles Davis - 1967 [1992] "Miles Smiles"

Miles Smiles is an album by jazz musician Miles Davis, released in January 1967 on Columbia Records. It was recorded by Davis and his second quintet at Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York City on October 24 and October 25, 1966. It is the second of six albums recorded by Davis's second great quintet, which featured saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams.

Miles Smiles showcases Davis' deeper exploration of modal performance with looser forms, tempos, and meters. Although the album did not follow the conventions of bop, neither did it follow the formlessness of free jazz. According to musicologist Jeremy Yudkin, Miles Smiles falls under the post-bop subgenre, which he defines as "an approach that is abstract and intense in the extreme, with space created for rhythmic and coloristic independence of the drummer—an approach that incorporated modal and chordal harmonies, flexible form, structured choruses, melodic variation, and free improvisation." Music theorist Keith Waters writes that the album "accentuated the quintet's connections to both the hard bop tradition and the avant-garde."

On three tracks from this album ("Orbits", "Dolores", "Ginger Bread Boy"), pianist Herbie Hancock takes the unusual step of dispensing with left-hand chords and playing only right-hand lines.

With their second album, Miles Smiles, the second Miles Davis Quintet really began to hit their stride, delving deeper into the more adventurous, exploratory side of their signature sound. This is clear as soon as "Orbits" comes crashing out the gate, but it's not just the fast, manic material that has an edge -- slower, quieter numbers are mercurial, not just in how they shift melodies and chords, but how the voicing and phrasing never settles into a comfortable groove. This is music that demands attention, never taking predictable paths or easy choices. Its greatest triumph is that it masks this adventurousness within music that is warm and accessible -- it just never acts that way. No matter how accessible this is, what's so utterly brilliant about it is that the group never brings it forth to the audience. They're playing for each other, pushing and prodding each other in an effort to discover new territory. As such, this crackles with vitality, sounding fresh decades after its release. And, like its predecessor, ESP, this freshness informs the writing as well, as the originals are memorable, yet open-ended and nervy, setting (and creating) standards for modern bop that were emulated well into the new century. Arguably, this quintet was never better than they are here, when all their strengths are in full bloom.

Without a hint of a doubt, the trumpeter Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet which he led in the mid-'60s rekindled his fire for music resulting in exuberant and adventurous music. Davis was reenergized by his young band which vitality and enthusiasm has made a big difference. Not only did it stretch Miles' boundaries, as the band was taking chances and experimenting, but it also helped him get through a difficult period in his personal life (the deaths of his parents, health issues and setbacks).

At the time, it appeared that the band was living a double life. The studio recordings, starting from E.S.P. (Columbia, 1964) showed the band in full flight as it created music that negotiated between the traditional and the experimental. While Miles had a distaste for free-jazz, obviously his band didn't, and Quintet's music clearly was informed by it. The resultant music was slippery, dynamic and it had an open-ended approach to harmony bolstered by elastic ways with rhythms. On the other hand, at concerts, the repertoire still consisted of old classics and standards. As best heard on the Live at the Plugged Nickel, the group approached these standards with such experimental zeal and elasticity that the songs became more daring and unpredictable.

On Miles Smiles, despite the band leader's period of personal setbacks and health, his band is playing music which is characterized by its exploratory and expansive nature. All things considered, this is a delicately great album, both unusual and tender in its art. Another indication of the band's stellar qualities as composers and performers are each band members' solo recordings from the period during Miles' hiatus, now considered to be classics, starting from Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1965), Wayne Shorter's Speak no Evil and Juju (Blue Note, 1965) and Tony Williams's Spring (Blue Note, 1965).

While on E.S.P. they were still getting to know each other, this time they have honed their skills to the point of a musical telepathy. The music on Miles Smiles shows a group of brilliant musicians as they mesh their skills into a cohesive and tight unit and then interacting, stretching and challenging each other. So much of the album balances the tensions between the old and the new. As a result, these compositions are a prime example of how they took the out-there nature and experimentalism of free jazz and tightened it up with in twisting and propulsive structures. And somewhere in between these two opposite sides, the Quintet has carved its own place resulting in is some of the most exciting jazz ever played.

All of the compositions, starting from the opening "Orbits," through the classic Shorter composition "Footprints" and until the closing "Gingerbread Boy" are complex pieces with tricky meters, multiple sections, juggling with conventional and unconventional forms. The Quintet sounds like a juggernaut as it pushes for constant discoveries and refusing to settle in a rote behavior. Everything about it suggests that the levels of interacting and listening have risen to a higher plateau. As a result, throughout, the leader's horn feels energized and the collective takes Miles' distinctive tone to new realms.

How the band progressed onward after this record and how some of these tracks were incorporated into the Quintet's set list can best be heard on the Live in Europe: Bootleg Series Vol.1 (Legacy, 2011). Back then, this record won the record of the year in the 1967 Down Beat reader's Poll, while the Quintet also took the top spot as the best combo and Miles also was first on the chart as the best trumpeter. Obviously, Davis, Shorter, Williams, Carter and Hancock are no ordinary band and Miles Smiles is not one of the usual post-bop releases. This vinyl reissue is both a reminder for fans and an obligatory introduction for novices. Miles Smiles is the pinnacle of the acoustic jazz of any sort and one of the ultimate testaments to the true strength of the Second Great Quintet and its leader.

http://jazz-rock-fusion-guitar.blogspot.com/search?q=Miles+Davis

Track listing:

1. Orbits
2. Circle
3. Footprints
4. Dolores
5. Freedom Jazz Dance
6. Gingerbread Boy

Personnel:

Miles Davis – Trumpet
Wayne Shorter – Tenor saxophone
Herbie Hancock – Piano
Ron Carter – Double bass
Tony Williams – Drums

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