MILES DAVIS / “Concierto de Aranjuez”
Source: Sketches of Spain (Columbia – 1960)
The story is simple.
My brother and I had a fight. I thought I had won. When we were young siblings our rivalry was sometimes settled with fists or choke holds, or occasionally a broom stick or thrown shoe.
Basking in the certainty that accompanies victory, I lounged on the sofa listening to music. Kenneth appeared in the doorway.
I looked up. He had my Miles Davis record: Sketches of Spain. He quickly removed the record from it’s sleeve, held it up and with a fork—yes, a fork!—in the other hand, repeatedly scratched deep furrows across the grooves of the black vinyl platter.
I was frozen in horror. The shriek of the mortally wounded record still remains at the top of my dreaded sounds list.
The loser, dramatically-turned-winner, dismissively tossed the carcass of the maimed recording toward me. “Nah!” was all he said.
I’m not certain if it was that day or the next but I went out and bought another copy of Sketches of Spain and my brother and I never fought like that again.
Back in the sixties there was a concept called “Third Stream,” referring to the attempt to merge jazz and classical music. I found most of the Third Stream utterly forgettable and generally unlistenable for more than five minutes at a time, except for this record, which for some reason unknown to me was never labeled Third Stream, or at least I don’t remember any such labeling.
Sketches Of Spain was one of the early high achievements in the career of Miles Davis.
Others would later record Joaquin Rodrigo’s "Conceirto de Aranjuez," which was the major composition on Sketches of Spain, but none would do so as successfully as Miles.
In one sense Sketches of Spain was the culmination of a three record collaboration between Miles Davis and arranger/conductor Gil Evans. Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess were the earlier outings, each establishing standards for jazz.
That triumvirate of orchestral works featuring Miles as the soloist was a jazz variation on the traditional classical concerto. What makes them jazz is not the form but rather Miles’ improvising as the soloist.
Gil Evans’ arranging is beautiful but Miles is beyond beauty—he is stunning. There is no equal to this record. When naming the top jazz records of all time, Sketches of Spain is sometimes overlooked or low-ranked possibly because most of the music is so unjazz-like and yet the sound and solos of Miles Davis are a veritable definition of jazz trumpet.
Particularly noteworthy is how Miles sets a standard for jazz trumpet without hardly ever employing high notes. Most of his playing is in the middle and lower register.
Contrast Miles’ playing on “Concierto” with his work on the Gil Evans composition, “Solea.” “Concierto de Aranjuez” is clearly a classical composition, “Solea” is more a series of riffs backgrounding Miles as my man unfurls a rich and varied solo. “Solea” is easily recognized as jazz.
No other recording, jazz or otherwise, comes immediately to mind to compare, not to mention to match, Sketches of Spain as a successful and popular merger of jazz and classical music.
An unsung hero on this recording (especially on "Solea") is bass player Paul Chambers whose work provides the overall pulse for much of the music.
Mr. P. C. is steady on the case, issuing forth not only wonderful and inventive bass lines but also providing a pulsing heartbeat that gives vitality and vigor to elements that might have easily slid over into the easy listening category.
Plus, there is a strength in Paul’s bass playing that is the perfect foundation for Miles’ sound which some have described as that of “a man walking on egg shells,” others describe it as a “tortured cry.” I think the proper nomenclature is to call it what it is: the sound of Miles Davis, in this case supported by the piston-like drive of Paul Chambers.
The cover is iconic. The profile of Miles, arched back, blowing his horn became the Columbia Records emblem for Miles that was emblazoned on a number of other albums. This album cover started the trend. Bold fields of color with silhouetted black images that, despite their diminutive size, starkly stood out from the dominant colors.
This is a jazz cover for all time.
There was a time when I listened to Sketches of Spain at least three or four times a week, every week.
Today, I share this music with you.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Monday, April 27th, 2009 at 12:03 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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