Miles Davis - Miles Ahead (Vinyl)

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Miles Ahead is an album by Miles Davis that was released in October 1957 by Columbia Records. It was Davis' first collaboration with arranger Gil Evans following the Birth of the Cool sessions. Along with their subsequent collaborations Porgy and Bess (1959) and Sketches of Spain (1960), Miles Ahead is one of the most famous recordings of Third Stream, a fusion of jazz, European classical, and world musics. Davis played flugelhorn throughout.
Evans combined the ten pieces that make up the album into a suite, each flowing into the next without interruption; the only exception to this rule was on the title track since it was placed last on side A (this has been corrected on the CD versions). Davis is the only soloist on Miles Ahead, which features a large ensemble consisting of sixteen woodwind and brass players. Art Taylor played drums on the sessions and the then current Miles Davis Quintet member Paul Chambers was the bassist.

A fifth recording date involved Davis alone (re-)recording material to cover or patch mistakes or omissions in his solos using overdubbing. The fact that this album was originally produced in mono makes these inserted overdubbings rather obvious in the new stereo setting.



The first of the 3 brilliant album length collaborations between Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans. As with Porgy and Bess and Sketches From Spain this is a series of duets between Davis and the orchestra (although, as on Porgy and Bess, Paul Chambers’ bass underpins the music, seemingly a free agent moving from zone to zone). In my other reviews of Evans’ work with Davis and his own albums of the time, I have praised his arrangements of ballads, the way the sounds are layered one on top of the other (listen to My Ship, a relatively simple performance by Davis, but one of Evans’s most sumptuous arrangements), but I’ve been a bit down on his arrangements of the brisker numbers. While I still think the slower numbers are the richer, returning to this album having not listened to any 1950s Evans for quite a while, I think I have been unjust: listen to Springsville, the orchestra is handled in a completely unique and original way, listen to the way it comes in behind Davis’s playing, like a sheet of glistening ice. It is only on the last track, which seems to be an attempt at a big blast of joyful noise, that Evans’s personality gets lost within the predictable brassy sound. My son came into the room while I was listening to the album and asked if it was Miles Davis (I was proud of him for recognizing Davis, but, knowing what I listen to, it might have been a percentage shot) – he listened for 15 seconds and then said it isn’t jazz (I clipped him around the ear and sent him to bed without milk and cookies): but is it jazz? Evans is obviously deeply influenced by European concert music, especially Debussy (The Maids of Cadiz is an arrangement of a theme by Delibes, not a composer I know, but as he is French and his name begins with a D I’ve always presumed he was similar to Debussy), but he transposes this into something uniquely American, and as a jazz musician his arrangements are centred in jazz, come out of his experience within jazz: whether we call them jazz or just jazz influenced music has little interest – what Evans has created is a unique statement within American music. Miles Davis is, of course, a jazz musician (although how much of his playing on this album has been arranged by Evans and how much is his improvisation, there is no way of telling: the relationship between the two men is so tight) and he plays the flugelhorn and his personality as a player is still developing, he is still cutting things back to find the essence: the flugelhorn gives him a softer, kinder sound than he had previously achieved on the trumpet, but he soon abandoned this horn, being able to achieve the same tones on his trumpet. Although the album is not themed in the way the next two collaborations were, the music comes together to form a whole, every theme building on the previous. If you want evidence that Miles Davis was the finest trumpet player of his generation and that Gil Evans was the finest arranger since Duke Ellington, this is a good place to look.
Reviewed by: Onethink


A1 Springsville
A2 The Maids Of Cadiz
A3 The Duke
A4 My Ship
A5 Miles Ahead
B1 Blues For Pablo
B2 New Rhumba
B3 The Meaning Of The Blues
B4 Lament
B5 I Don't Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyony But You)

William Claxton collection
Deluxe gatefold sleeve, limited edition.
Jazz Images Records 37090