Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#35 Miles Davis-Kind Of Blue


Artist: Miles Davis
Album: Kind Of Blue
Label: Columbia
Year: 1959

One of my remarks about Mingus Ah Um was about how well it sort of..."overviews" the history of jazz, for lack of a better phrase. Mingus's greatness always seemed to lie in his ability to update and pay homage to the masters of jazz. This came across in his music and the people he played with as well (Duke Ellington and Max Roach for example). Kind Of Blue, released the same year, is equally important and definitive as a Jazz album. But as Miles looks towards the future and continues to refine a sound uniquely his own, it's legacy is greater and the album even more essential.
Like Ah Um, almost every song on Kind Of Blue is a classic-a next generation "standard" (if the original jazz standards date back to the 1920s-1930s). But rather than a joyous celebration that gives off a near-giddy atmosphere, Kind Of Blue is the definitive of all of Miles' cool albums. Really, what I love about Miles is how understated he is. Many of his peers as well as predecessors were known for an aggressive style. Coltrane (who appears on this album) has a box set called Heavyweight Champion. Charlie Parker, a key influence on Miles (and one of Miles' first notable gigs was to play alongside him) was known for his aggressive sax style, which was in contrast to the smooth stylings of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young before him. Miles would later in his career prove to be capable of playing with unmatched ferociousness, and Kind Of Blue is just another example of how capable he was of playing any style.
I could write more, but really, I think my love of Miles comes from a "less is more" place, and I have one more album of his to review on this list. There is a quote somewhere in Miles's autobiography about John Coltrane. Generally he told Coltrane he could improve his solos by taking the horn out of his mouth. Davis' genius lies in his ability to leave everything understated...forcing you to find the greatness of his music, rather than beating you over the head with it. Kind Of Blue is a perfect example of him doing just that.

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