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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 10:05 am 
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Rather than derail our daily albums thread with discussion, I’m bringing the Miles stuff here.

Miles Davis is my favorite jazz artist. I started exploring jazz in the late 1990s and quickly found, to my surprise, that it was my cup of tea way more than I expected it to be. Considering I gravitate towards noisy rock and sprawling ambiance, that was a bit surprising.

Though I enjoy tons of artists and have read several biographies and watch documentaries and have many dozens of jazz records in my library and all that, I don’t know if I can call myself a true aficionado – as with so many things, I appear knowledgeable to people who don’t know their stuff, but am still a rookie to people who are true experts – but I do have a great love for the genre in all its permutations. Jazz is a regular part of my listening (as my album lists can attest to).

That is perhaps why I’m such a big Miles Davis fans. He has not only dabbled in just about every type of jazz movement from hard bop forward, he flat-out pioneered several of them himself. His career was one of constant reinvention.

The guy was a fantastic bop trumpeter with Charlie Parker; invented so-called “cool jazz” in the early 1950s (actually, in 1949) and then quickly moved on from it; broke the lid open on modal jazz with his first great quintet (in my estimation the greatest jazz band ever assembled, a band which gave the equally amazing John Coltrane his career); had a series of lush and theatrical collaborations with Gil Evans (“Sketches of Spain” is one of the most beautiful albums ever recorded); in the early to mid 1960s had a second great quintet that took an angular, off-centered approach to the modal jazz he had already pioneered, even incorporating aspects of rock into their later works; set the standard for jazz fusion with the wonderfully ambient “In A Silent Way” and the densely layered “Bitches Brew”; explored a free-roaming, sometimes abrasive blend of rock, jazz, funk, and world music in the 1970s; and in his final years in the 1980s, toyed around with fusions of electro-pop, hip hop, and post-punk in jazz form.

The man was amazing.

I think it’s the restless nature of his work that most draws me to it. I’m easily bored. I need a constant flow of new stimuli in my entertainment or I go a bit crazy. The same holds true for my own artistic expression. If I’m not constantly doing something new, working on something, trying to create something I hadn’t created before, I begin to go a bit stir crazy.

So the wildly veering nature of his career appeals to me.

(And no, not for a MOMENT am I comparing myself to Miles Davis. Jesus fuck, no! Just saying his explorations fit well with what I like.)

For the last couple of months I’ve been doing a marathon through all of (or most of) his studio albums, usually 2-3 a day.

He recorded a LOT of albums, between 50 to 80 or so studio albums depending on what you define as an “album.” (His record labels released a load of compilation records that, while not technically true albums that Miles himself intended to release, brought together unreleased songs that made them unique collections of music in their own right. Circle in the Round, for example, which includes the sprawling, 26-minute title track, is a work of art itself, “true” album or not.)

Which means even now, as I listen to his mid 1970s work, I have a long way to go.

Skipped a good bit of his early to mid 1950s work during this marathon, too, about five or six collections that I didn’t have when I started.

Anyway, when I started this post I only intended to talk about revisiting the 1970s work that I had previously found unappealing (see this post), but I got off on a tangent, so I’ll probably make a few posts here and there about various Miles stuff, then I’ll appropriate it all for a blog post or something.

Not that you care.

So yeah, this is the Miles Davis thread.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 10:13 am 
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His work with Charlie Parker prior to starting his own bands is all good and worth listening to, but mostly for Parker, not Miles. Miles was a capable trumpet man with a sense for melody, but Parker was a wild free spirit who liked to explored the (then) outer limits of the sax. And he played FAST.

Miles kept things stable; he was pretty conservative, didn't like playing rapid fire (that was Dizzy Gillespie's job), and tended towards the melodic.

I like his early to mid 1950s work just fine, though aside from Birth of the Cool, it's pretty standard. He assembled fine bands and showed himself to be a master of understatement, but basically it's that brand of "fills in the background" jazz that a lot of people are quick to dismiss.

The time to really start paying attention is with the "in" records with Prestige: Relaxin', Steamin', Workin', and Cookin'. (There is also a Walkin', which is a compilation record.)

Fucking John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers. This band was great!

They were doing bop better than anyone, and setting the stage for the second* of MD's big innovations in jazz, Kind of Blue, widely considered the greatest jazz record of all time.




*The first was Birth of the Cool, which did indeed birth "cool jazz"music with its layered instruments and innovative structures.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 11:38 am 
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Kind of Blue is, to me, the jazz record. It’s the record I go to when I want some soothing jazz but don’t want to think too hard about what I want. It’s the record I go to when I want to learn a little something about how musical structures can be smashed and put back together again into something beautiful. It’s the record I go to when I want to hear the million different ways snatches of melody can be pulled out of something simple.

Kind of Blue consistently amazes me because it’s a rare record that works equally well as background music, as intense headphone listening music, as approachable instrumental work, and as impressive virtuosity.

I often hesitate to really say how I feel, because I feel like I’ll hype it too much and people will inevitably be let down when they finally listen to it.

But man, this record earns it. Repeated listens just get more and more rewarding, too. It has been a go-to for me for about 18 years now and never gets stale.

Combined with Sketches of Spain, which was made just a few months later, it’s the ultimate 1-2 Miles Davis punch.

Sketches of Spain might be the loveliest jazz record ever recorded. Gil Evans brought these lush arrangements to the party, songs taken from Spanish composers and made new, and they are like soundtracks for a film that doesn’t exist.

Miles is arguably at his best here, because he does what he does better than anyone: he just sits IN the music, resting in the pocket, never striving to rise above it or guide it. He is part of the overall texture, like one gorgeous brush stroke among many.

Usually I prefer NOT to listen to the full re-releases of these Columbia releases, because they include bonus tracks that alter the intended listening experience, but in this case the re-release is the way to go. It includes an alternate take of the 16-minute opening track, Concierto de Aranjuez, at the end. Putting it at the end makes the whole piece kind of like a sonata, with the theme returning in the end in a slightly different form, bringing the whole piece full circle.

This stretch of his work, 1958 to 1961 or so, was just stellar.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 11:53 am 
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While I am generally not a jazz aficionado, I love Kind Of Blue. Even though they are diametrically different albums, I'd be happy with Kind Of Blue and The Dave Brubeck Quartet Take Five, both amazing albums. I have a few more live Miles albums, but again, I enjoy them when I hear them, but I almost never seek them out to play them.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 12:25 pm 
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Glad you started this thread. Like Kimfair, I don't generally listen to jazz but I like certain albums. Miles Davis has always been an artist I wanted to learn more about but never sought out anything but the big albums, Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew, Sketches of Spain, etc.

This year, I've been looking for something to dig into musically because as much as I love rock music in all its forms, I'm getting a little bored with just variations on the same thing. Not to say I'm not totally going to be looking forward to new releases from my favorite bands but it's been a long time since I got elbow deep in something new and tried to really understand it on a deeper level.

My father LOVES jazz. It's his favorite music, period. I figured this may be the year I try to dig into it and appreciate it as more than just background music, so when you started posting your Miles Davis albums in the album thread, I thought that would be a great place to start.

Quick question for you. A major part of my getting into any new thing is to also read up on it. I want to read a biography of Davis while I'm exploring this monstrous catalog. Do you have one you recommend? I've seen a couple that are recommended on Amazon but wondered if you'd read any.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 12:40 pm 
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His autobiography is sharp and offers some good insights, but I'd actually recommend Milestones over it:

www.amazon.com/Milestones-Music-Times-M ... 306808498/

It's a MONSTER book, a fucking doorstop, but it's a good read, quite complete, and deals more with the music than with the personal stuff. Plus it corrects a lot of stuff Miles fudged in his own book.

One major caveat is that the author HATES Miles' later work, so I recommend not reading those chapters until you have listened to it for yourself. Otherwise, your views may be tainted.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 1:44 pm 
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Cool. I was considering the Ian Carr one but I'll pick this one up instead.

Thanks.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2016 9:33 am 
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I was going to comment chronologically, but I have to get this off my chest now.

I'm in the midst of listening to Agharta right now. Yesterday it was Pangea. Both are sprawling two hour+ albums from 1975 and 1976.

And this is just the sort of Miles I can do without.

A few of the post-Bitches Brew records were a real revelation on this revisit (Jack Johnson especially, wow), but that's for another post.

These records?

Funk-driven jam band nonsense.

By this point Miles hadn't been doing "jazz" for five or six years, and that's fine. There was no swing in the music, and again, that's fine. In the early 1970s he was essentially doing krautrock. I'm really surprised to not see this period put in those terms and wonder if it's because most jazz critics aren't very familiar with krautrock (I wasn't when I first explored this period), because that's pretty much what it is. Some of these records sound MUCH better to me now.

By the mid-70s, though ... ugh.

Agharta, for instance, is a meandering mess of endless grooves that don't really go anywhere, occasionally punctuated by a wanky guitar solo. Miles himself rarely plays. Lots of funk, touches of world music (mostly in the instrumentation), and propulsive momentum that gets tiring after a while. For two hours!

He was on the cutting edge, no doubt about it, and these days this period is experiencing a delayed "holy shit, this was amazing" resurgence among critics, but funk has never quite clicked with me and as a general rule I do not like jam bands, so this is really not my biscuit. Reminds me of hanging out with wanky musician friends while they noodled about on jams that never seemed to have a purpose.

That said, people who DO like that sort of thing will probably really like this period. Some of these jams sound a LOT like the instrumental jams the Beastie Boys do, for instance -- except they are 15 minutes long instead of 3 minutes!

So if you like that, you may be good with this.

I'll have to keep at it. I know there is something here, I just don't know if it's for me.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2016 12:08 pm 
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caryc wrote:
My father LOVES jazz. It's his favorite music, period. I figured this may be the year I try to dig into it and appreciate it as more than just background music, so when you started posting your Miles Davis albums in the album thread, I thought that would be a great place to start.


This is my situation, too, and for a long time I thought I didn't like jazz until I realized that my father just had pretty shitty taste in jazz. I've since thrown Coltrane and Ornette Coleman records at him in the hopes of improving his taste, with spotty results.

Miles Davis, I've sampled here and there, but never really past Bitches Brew. Had On the Corner and Jack Johnson on my to-buy list for years. Can't argue with anything Shoe's saying from the stuff I know (and the stature of the man in general). I just usually throw on Coltrane when I want to hear some jazz.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2016 12:09 pm 
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Though after dissing my dad's taste in jazz, I should mention I'm meeting him here for dinner this evening. Cuban jazz. Said yes mostly because the food's good and it's a few blocks from my house, but we'll see.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2016 1:59 pm 
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I LOVE classic Coltrane, and should briefly gush before going into the below. Coltrane being who he is, I figure most of us here who have even dabbled his jazz know at least his landmark works – he’s the kind of edgy artist I fully expect many of us to have checked out – so I’ll just jump into a recommendation:

The recent A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters is THE FUCKING BOMB!!!!!

No kidding. Spend. The. Money.

It is worth every penny for the third disc, which is an extended live recording of the entire album being performed front to back.

The sound quality is fucking impeccable. Studio quality.

And the performance? Holy SHIT! Think it’s about 10 minutes longer than the album proper, because they explore a little more and take it to new places, but it still has the thematic focus of the album itself. It’s remarkable and I can’t believe I haven’t heard it before. Worth the entire price for that alone.

(I think it’s missing from my daily album lists because of the way I do them, but I listened to it a few times when it came out last fall and just trust me on this shit.)

(Also, second disc was just some scattered outtakes, worthy of a skim but little more.)

Anyway, Coltrane.

His work becomes increasingly more difficult as it becomes more … difficult.

His earliest explorations into free jazz were pretty great, a good mix of challenging but listenable. Stuff that would sometimes burst into the stratosphere, but he was still tethered to the earth.

Later, he’d have these lengthy jams that had no breathing room at all, where his playing was all squeals of upper register notes, like laser beams and metal clanks in a robot war. I have that four-disc Village Vanguard set, and the moments of brilliance (especially when he incorporates world music influences into the work) are often overshadowed by the restless self-indulgence that drove him from then forward. And that’s the mild stuff. It gets more extreme from there.

It’s fatiguing.

Love Coltrane, I recommend Soultrane, Ballads, Crescent, Giant Steps, and Blue Train to anyone who will listen (and a few others, like Africa/Brass and Ole are worthwhile), but holy shit, his free jazz stuff just doesn’t do it for me.

Ornette Coleman, meanwhile, I totally dig, INCLUDING his free jazz.

Can’t figure it out.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2016 2:17 pm 
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I've got a buddy who got into Coltrane with his free stuff and worked backward; I started with Blue Train. We sort of met in the middle. Yeah, the stretch you recommend is the stuff I like best, though.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2016 8:53 am 
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Gave Bitches Brew an intense headphones listen while laying in bed the other night.

The layers on that record run so deep, it's a magic trick to puzzle it all out. The band Miles used was enormous, with two bassists, up to three drummers, multiple electric keyboardists, a guitarist, plus the traditional jazz pieces.

None of them really knew what they'd be playing when they walked into the studio. Some of them were even drafted just days prior to the recording session.

You can hear him giving them instructions on the recording, directing them this way and that.

It shouldn't work.

But the resulting record is all propulsive texture, like smears of random paint that somehow manage to become a cohesive whole. A pair of electric keyboards will be playing stuff at odds with one another, one some groovy note tapping, the other chunky chords, while the guitarist riffs on some tonal stuff between them. They don't seem to fit, but they do. It all manages to fit together to create a singular sound.

Listening really closely is difficult, though. With traditional jazz, it's rarely difficult to focus on a performance because by and large, you have the band and the soloist. The band is playing complementary music, the soloist is, you know, soloing. You'll usually have 3-5 pieces in the band. Not tough to listen to all the layers at once.

Bitches Brew is not like that. Huge band, and at times it seems as if everyone is soloing at once. It should be really chaotic, like free jazz, but somehow it's not. It has shape and form, but it's so vague at times it becomes difficult to pin down why it's working. You mind can only follow so many meandering instruments at once before you're overwhelmed.

Especially fascinating is that Miles did it only once. Came in with a vision, did Bitches Brew, and never did anything like it again.

Neither did any other jazz musician.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 3:56 pm 
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Bitches Brew was one of the first jazz albums I bought, if not the first. Odd place to start.

Seems to me I read an interview a few years ago that said somebody admitted lots of that album was created by editing rather than played that way live.

It's got a very distinct feel. Think I'll be listening to it before I go to sleep tonight, actually. Thanks for reminding me.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 5:49 pm 
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The editing comment is correct. There was quite a bit of cutting and pasting happening, bits being strung together, even a few instances where bits of Miles' playing was dropped into places where it hadn't actually taken place. It was pretty groundbreaking in that regard.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 9:14 am 
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It took me ages, but I've finally entered the 1980s.

Even three minutes in, I'm groaning.

Despite being a huge Miles Davis fan, I've never given this era much of a thought. I skimmed Tutu once or twice, quick checked a few other tunes from the era many years ago, and haaaaaaatttted them. Unlike the mid-'70s era, which was difficult but showed hints of something being there if you were willing to give it a chance, this just sounded like elevator meets TV soundtrack shit with slick '80s production. Never bothered to go back and really listen, because even small 30-second samples were terrible.

They SOUNDED like the '80s. And not in a good way.

So this is all really a first for me.

And there are 8 of these fucking albums to listen to. :(

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 6:00 pm 
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So, I've been listening chronologically and it's been good in places and a slog in others. Mostly because while starting with 1951's Dig! which I liked well enough, I didn't really see much change from album to album in those early releases.

Again, remember that I'm an untrained ear and jazz is not my usual listen. Loved all of the "in" albums, Sketches from Spain and Someday My Prince Will Come. Like Porgy and Bess well enough. Loved Kind of Blue but there was so much in between all those that just left me feeling like I'd heard it all before.

However today, I listened to Sorcerer for the first time and holy shit was that incredible! I've got Nefertiti and Filles De Kilamanjaro lined up for tomorrow. Today, I just listened to Sorcerer on repeat.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 6:56 pm 
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Oh shit, I didn't know this was a thing!


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2016 6:33 am 
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I can't say I can speak to his music by song or album name. I'm not that familiar with his library. However, I do have a single "CD" of his I keep on my phone because there are times you just need to fucking listen to Miles Davis.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 05, 2016 10:59 am 
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Just two more records to go and I'm through it all. The '80s stuff has been a drag, though I'm looking forward to his final record, Doo-Bop. I've never heard it, but I know it by reputation. He wanted to bring a hip-hop influence into his work, and worked with a hip-hop producer to do it. That sounds very curious to me, and like a good direction for him to explore.

This other stuff is just ... nah. I've been reading a few articles about this period. One says:

The music on You’re Under Arrest owes a lot to ’80s R&B; it sounds like Prince, or Cameo, or any number of other groups having big radio hits at the time, just with a trumpet instead of a lead vocalist.

This is quite accurate, and it may be why I dislike it do much. Prince is great, but he's a different beast. As a general rule, '80s R&B was pretty awful. Shitty drum machines, thin sounding synths and electric bass, it all just sounds like shit -- and that's exactly what Miles' backing "band" sounds like on these records. ("Band" is in quotes because he wasn't always using a band. On records like Tutu, he actually had a producer construct tracks and he played over them.)

Some of these pieces attempt to defend this era, and suggest that like his 1970s work, critics have just been slow to catch up to what he was doing.

I'm not so sure.

In the 1970s, Miles was pushing boundaries and doing shit no one had ever heard before. It's a bit hit or miss, yeah, but you don't have to be an astute listener to recognize that he was smashing down musical walls.

The '80s stuff just sounds like him trying to be contemporary but not really being sure of how to do it. I mean, he covered fucking Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper songs, ferchristsake!

The one exception to these gripes is 1983's Star People, which is kind of a blues fusion record with 1980s rock elements. So far, it's the highlight of the era for me. It actually kind of works, sounding like a blend between classic styles and more contemporary sounds.

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I don't have anything to say to this, except, that when I curse in English (which is just as often as German or Turkish) the ONLY swear words I use are... bitches brew.
I don't know where or when I picked it up (I don't care about Davis - having only heard some of his annoying 80s stuff, while growing up in the decade), but it's my go-to English swear vocabulary. Bitches Brew!

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 08, 2016 8:59 am 
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And suddenly, Miles surprises me again.

Second to last record, Aura. Wow. This is a great album. It's more akin to his work with Gil Evans, in that a composer created the arrangements that Miles came in and soloed over, but it's not purely traditional like that Davis / Evans work. There are elements of Brian Eno ambiance here, classical music, touches of avant garde composition, and hints of 1980s mood music. It sounds of its time, chintzy bass guitar sound and crap drum sounds and all.

But here, it really works.

And Miles is perfect over it.

I can't say this about any other '80s record from him, but this one I'll probably keep going back to.

One more to go ...

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 08, 2016 10:23 am 
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Shoe wrote:
And suddenly, Miles surprises me again.

Second to last record, Aura. Wow.


This the only late period Davis I purchased the year it came out. Another one where my father and I watched his interview on 60 Minutes and not knowing what to buy, I bought whatever the latest thing was. I agree with you. I love it but haven't heard it in some time. I had it on cassette back in the day and haven't replaced it, but will soon.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 08, 2016 12:26 pm 
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The final Miles Davis record, Doo-Bop, was a minor disappointment. I knew this one by reputation but hadn't heard it before. It was released posthumously. The record was an experiment with blending hip hop and Miles.

Basically, Davis sought out a hip hop producer, had him create some instrumental tracks, and then Miles put his work over them. They did about six tracks that way, with the producer finishing off the record after Davis' death by pasting together a few more tracks and (sigh) rapping over them.

It was a noble experiment, and one that I think had a lot of potential, but ultimately it was a creative failure.

The horn work and hip hop beats work REALLY well together, well enough so that I think there was a lot of room to explore the idea further, but this record is too repetitive. Miles sounds good, but the music he plays with is unchanging. Four, five minutes of a looped backing track. Nah. Doesn't work.

And the rap tracks suuuuuuuuck. The guy sounds like Snap, the dude who rapped on "The Power."

This album won a fucking Grammy!

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 08, 2016 12:42 pm 
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I sort of want to go back now and start listening to all the live albums in chronological order.

We'll see.

Anyway, it's pretty remarkable how vital and artistic Davis remained over such a long period of time. The groundbreaking Birth of the Cool was recorded in 19 fucking 49! World War II ended just a few years prior, ferchristsake!

And then you fast forward to the 1990s and the guy is STILL trying new things!

He went from playing in contemporary bop bands to playing with hip hop artists! How insane is that?

The list of musicians who have consistently put out music over a 40-year stretch is short enough as it is. Now remove those artists who kept pushing themselves to new creative places over the course of 40 years and Miles is in such a ridiculously elite group, I'm not even sure who to namedrop here.

Not all of his experiments worked, though that's all to taste. I'm not a fan of funk and jam funk, for instance, so much of his early 1970s stuff doesn't work for me (though "A Tribute to Jack Johnson" was a damn revelation). Others, however, think that period is filled with superb, groundbreaking material.

That's one measure of an artist, innit?

I've been listening to this guy for going on 20 years, and he continues to surprise me. It's easy to get complacent and only listen to his best stuff -- there is enough "best stuff" so that you can cycle through many albums and never get bored; how many other artists can boast a half-dozen "essential" records and another dozen+ that are worth listening to any time? -- so I'm glad I decided to revisit all the stuff I rarely listen to, and to finally get through his 1980s albums.

Just reinforced all the love I have for him as an artist.

Miles Davis. :thumbs:

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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2018 2:57 pm 
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I happened to be sending this to someone and thought I'd share it here. It's a live rendition of the complete A Love Supreme album by John Coltrane and his band. Soundboard recording, pristine, and an amazing performance that will thrill anyone who enjoys the record.

Link expires in seven days, so grab it while you can:

https://we.tl/mZc8L8e0Ee

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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2018 6:34 pm 
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HMFIC
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Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 7:30 pm
Posts: 4447
Location: Detroit
Grabbed.


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