Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Masters: Miles Davis - Top Five Studio Albums

RtBE loves listening to new music and prides itself on keeping tabs on up and coming artists but in 2019 we are also going to have a monthly spotlight on legendary artists who we really love. We are calling this series The Masters. It will focus on the best albums, live records, transcendent shows and other odd ways we appreciate the artists and their contribution to music, culture and our formation.

For January The Masters focuses on Jazz great Miles Davis

What better way to supplement Jazzy January then with the the iconic Davis? He has so many eras, rebirths and styles it is amazing. Fans may love one period of his recording and be repulsed by another. He (like many others in this series) followed his muse wherever it would take him, dark places, beautiful places it didn't matter. He had demons and issues.

He also had ungodly talent and is by far our favorite Jazz artist for the risks he took, the results he got and the way his music always keeps us guessing no matter how many times we hear it.  As Richard Brody stated much more eloquently:
Davis’s musical development, from the age of twenty-nine through forty-nine—and his personal evolution and musical revolution is itself one of the grandest artistic dramas of the dramatic time.
For this first installment we are going to look at Miles Davis Top Five Studio Albums to RtBE's ears. Let's get down on the corner...

#5 Miles Smiles 1967
Wikipedia Info
For our money the peak of Miles second great quintet and the best hard/post bop Davis and company put out there is Miles Smiles. The rhythm section here is just dynamite as Ron Carter and Tony Williams might be the best bass/drum combo in Jazz history pushing and pulling with force, touch and power. Tossing on top of that Herbie Hancock Wayne Shorter and Davis is rich icing on an already tasty cake. While my tastes run more towards the rough and tumble this straight up jazz playing is such a joy to hear and a great way to start our list.

#4 Sketches of Spain 1960
Wikipedia Info
The one album from his historic collaborations with Gil Evans to make our list is the dynamic Sketches of Spain. This fantastic record also happened to be my first introduction into the world of Miles as my father played the record often. While Pa'Dukes was not a big jazz head, he loved the worldly Spanish flare and marching percussion. Miles playing is passionate, exotic and smart and the orchestra around him is top notch. From the opening "Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)" to the closing masterpiece "Solea" the ethereal music is engaging. 

#3 Kind of Blue 1959
Wikipedia Info
While other upcoming entries in The Masters series will surely be tough to rank, Miles poses a larger problem as very few other artists had such wide gaps in their styles. Also my personal tastes shift with time and new discovery's. I used to love Star People and realized when putting together this list I haven't listened to it for years. I hated On the Corner when I first heard it, now I love it.  A Silent Way just missed this top fiveI always skipped 'Round Midnight and recently purchased it, instantly fell in love. Is Kind of Blue a classic and the best modal jazz album of all-time? Yup. The truth is though for these ears which gravitate more to rock and roll with a groove Kind of Blue just isn't pulled off the shelf that often in my home. Impossible to deny it's greatness, just not our favorite.

#2 A Tribute to Jack Johnson 1971
Wikipedia Info
Two songs, just over fifty minutes and pure audio bliss. The funk rock fusion peak for Miles is this soundtrack record as Jack Johnson life story touched Davis deeply. He was moved and then put together an amazing group of players to move us. Again producer Macero needs credit for his working editing and combining but the finished product is a gloriously grooving sense of adventure. Put it on and enjoy.

#1 Bitches Brew 1970
Wikipedia Info
Starting with the enchanting artwork, Bitches Brew is one of my favorite records of all time, any genre. It is bewitching on so many levels, the tape loops, the playing, the alchemy. there is something more then the even the sum of it's parts. It is not easy listening, it is not comfortable, it is challenging and dark, illuminating and inspiring. It proved the studio could be used as another instrument, rearranging and imagining great artists recorded sound in new setups. It was a mental break through the first time I heard it and still delivers unexpected insights whenever I return to it. There is deep magic on this record.

How'd we do? Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment and as always thanks for reading. 

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