Heroic horns Nr. 1

Given this week’s topic and Toffeeboy’s promised Go-betweens retrospective I’m reminded that I made a rash statement a while ago to post an overview of 3 Miles Davis tracks.

At the time I was trying to quell the natural inclination to go off on a rave about my favourite artist, list 50+ tracks and, in doing so, rapidly end up somewhere no-one’s particularly keen to follow. So three it is; I’ll post them in instalments.

I’m not claiming these are his three best tracks; however, they are among my favourites and are not so well known, so may offer some perspective for anyone interested in getting into his work.

First up, Milestones, from the eponymous 1958 album. This has the distinction of being the only album I have ever bought in the U.K. incidentally, from Mole Jazz in north London. Milestones is a deceptively simple piece; the theme is stated in two parts, once with all three horns in unison, and once with the trumpet setting a counterpart and “slurring” slightly to establish tension with the two saxophonists; this tension is then released by a return to the more up-beat part of the theme.

The solos are played by Cannonball Adderley, followed by Miles, who darkens the tone, and then John Coltrane on tenor, just starting to develop his “sheets of sound” style. Drummer Philly Joe Jones plays his famous “rimshots” throughout, hitting the rim of the drums to keep a snapping pulse going.

The theme of the piece is quietly carried by the pianist Red Garland, while the mood is set by bassist Paul Chambers, who alternates between “walking” the bass and sitting on a repeated riff during the second part of the theme to create tension.

The solos look forward to the famous “Kind of Blue” album in that the players are starting to create their own melodic or “modal” lines based on the chords of the theme, rather than just “playing around” the individual notes bebop-style, although the harmony remains static and each of the rhythm players has quite a constrained role.

A perfectly balanced piece of music, glowing with freshness, clarity and invention.


14 thoughts on “Heroic horns Nr. 1

  1. Great tune, one of my favorite Miles albums.Cannonball is brilliant as usual, as is Paul Chambers, Coltrane ditto. Miles intro at 4.50 is classic, instantly recognisable.

  2. Cheers nilpferd, look forward to the next instalments. Cannonball’s cheeky quote of ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ is nice.Sadly, and probably thanks to t’internet which we love, Mole Jazz is no more. After a couple moves near to Kings Cross and another one to (London) W1, I think it’s closed its doors, leaving a trail of ‘Mole Jazz has moved’ posters in its wake. It was a fine shop.

  3. GF- indeed, the start of the playout is so effortless, yet perfectly controlled.That’s very perceptive with Fascinating Rhythm, DP, Cannonball is so fluent I never consciously noticed that quote before. Sorry to hear about Mole Jazz, it was the first jazz dedicated music store I really went into. I still have their price sticker with a saxophone playing, checked trousers clad mole on the CD.

  4. One of my favourite Miles tunes too, the beginning of Cannonball’s solo is one of my favourite things ever, maybe more than coriander.

  5. Mole Jazz is no more, but Ray’s Jazz is still going, if anyone’s interested; it’s now on the first floor of Foyle’s bookshop on Charing Cross Road and incorporates an extremely fine cafe – my regular place for breakfast on those rare occasions when I struggle up to the Great Wen from the depths of Somerset, a fine coffee and cake to the sound of jazz, followed by spending too much money on rare cds. As for Miles, well, what can you say? This isn’t one of my favourites, and it’s still head and shoulders above 90% of all the music ever written. Hard to think of many people who’ve achieved such greatness in so many different idioms; Ellington and Mingus are the only possible competitors who come to mind, but – while they’re better composers – they can’t match Miles in creating something wonderful out of fragments (a loose set of chords, a scale or two, a particular group of musicians) and in remaining utterly himself in completely different contexts.

  6. Abahachi: Not to get argumentative or anything but “creating something wonderful out of fragments (a loose set of chords, a scale or two, a particular group of musicians) and in remaining utterly himself in completely different contexts.”But that’s precisely what Duke did for 40 odd years, his ‘particular group of musicians’ generated most of the fragments that Duke worked into classics. I do know what you mean re. Miles but I think his main talent was in other areas, he’s more like a painter, which of course he was, always pushing the limits of the canvas and looking for different ways of expressing similar ideas.On a different subject, I was so glad to see you mention the Ring Cycle and wished I’d seen it earlier to perhaps start a thread on that. I’ve only ever sat through it entirely once but recently I rented the Met’s video version and scanned through highlights, maybe an off-topic thread for a future RR topic.

  7. a p.s.Back in the 40’s/50’s there was a jazz record shop in Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross road, I used to haunt it. Perhaps the name will come to me.

  8. There are aspects of both Goneforeign’s and Abahachi’s descriptions I’d concur with. What I find happening time and again with Miles is that he created sessions which delivered a definitive statement, either through his own contribution or through some mysterious influence he exerts over his colleagues. As Ejaydee says, Cannonball’s entry on this piece is sublime, even by his standards. Many musicians have spoken of his cryptic remarks, often setting players against one another, of his lack of specific guidance, his disdain for rehearsals, and nonetheless of the alchemy which made them play better than they ever had before.

  9. Perhaps because I obsess about the 60s quintet above all, I tend to see the essence of Miles as setting things up so that something brilliant comes out of a particular moment – yes, I’m on the verge of using words like ‘happening’. It’s the idea of not allowing any of the musicians to see the music beforehand so that everything is fresh and spontaneous; it’s the cryptic instructions like telling John McLaughlin, “Play like you don’t know how to play the guitar”…

  10. Thank you, Dobell’s it is [was].A correction, the Sebastion Faulks book is ‘Engleby’, not Enderby. A really interesting, ‘couldn’t put it down’ type of novel but from such a different perspective. I think I have a slight grasp of this audience and I think you’d all enjoy it as much as I did. It spans UK from mid 70’s ’til now.

  11. Thanks for that Nilpferd. Brilliant, and more enjoyable to listen to with your description in front of me.The farm we’re members of has got lemongrass in it’s pick-your-own crops, so I have a big bunch of that, I bought some coconut milk, and…

  12. Yum..I’ve recently been trying something which was written on a packet of coconut cream I had, which is to marinate chicken (for which read tofu) in a mixture of thickened coconut cream, oyster sauce, a little soy sauce, and something spicy like sambal oelek or cumin and chilli; then stir fry it with sliced peppers, and add rice noodles, or serve it on basmati rice.Glad you liked the piece Steenbeck, it was your original piece on horns I think which prompted me to post this.

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