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Posts Tagged ‘Miles Davis’

Best of 2001, revisited

Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

So, as anyone who reads this blog on a fairly consistent basis (insofar as it’s consistently updated, at least) knows, I do my best-of-year lists a year after the fact to correct for a number of errors, most obviously the fact that I can’t possibly hear or buy all the great albums released in a year all that quickly. The folks over at The Turntable - the blog associated with Stylus - do a similar cool thing, which is go back and draw up a new “best of year” list a year after the fact, and compare it with their old lists. The differences are interesting at least. So here: I’ll do the same thing - here is my Best of 2001 as I would have it today. Note that I made this up without looking back at the original Best of 2001 list I posted in December of 2002.

  1. Present - High Infidelity
  2. The Dismemberment Plan - Change
  3. Magma - Theusz Hamtaakh Trilogie
  4. Mogwai - Rock Action
  5. Miles Davis - Live at the Fillmore East: It’s About That Time
  6. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Grand Opening and Closing
  7. The Beta Band - Hot Shots II
  8. Green Carnation - Light of Day, Day of Darkness
  9. Outkast - Stankonia
  10. Satoko Fujii Quartet - Vulcan

Some other great albums released in 2001: Femi Kuti’s Fight to Win, System of a Down’s Toxicity, Djam Karet’s Ascension, Explosions in the Sky’s Those Who Tell the Truth…, Avant Garden’s Maelstrom, Bob Drake’s The Skull Mailbox, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, and John Coltrane’s The Olatunji Concert. Whew. It was a good year, apparently. Oh, and the best surprise of the year was Dream Theater’s Live Scenes From New York, which was actually really good - light-years better than their previous live album (though that’s damning with faint praise, I suppose). The Coup’s Party Music was pretty good, but a little disappointing.

You may note that Krakatoa’s Togetherness disappeared from my list (from #4 originally). I still think it’s a great album, but I just haven’t been inclined to pull it out very often for the past couple years. Same goes for their other albums, including the newer one on Cuneiform, which never really grabbed me that well in the first place. Hmm.

Also, High Infidelity took a huge leap from #7 to #1, and after peeking back at the archives, four of the ten items on the list above were not on the old one at all. Still, the top few more or less remained constant, which is cool.

Swooning over The Art Box

Saturday, January 17th, 2004

My copy of The Art Box, a 6-CD box set of Art Bears material (their three original albums released in 1978-9 as well as three full CD’s of remixes and reworkings by various high-profile avant-prog figures), came in today. Let’s see. I own a fair number of box sets. I recently got Miles DavisThe Complete In a Silent Way Sessions and The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, both of which are beautiful works of art in terms of the packaging. But this box nearly takes the cake. While it can’t quite compete with the metal Bitches Brew package, The Art Box is one of the most beautiful CD packages I’ve ever laid eyes on. The box itself is tastefully simplistic, each CD comes digipacked separately, the CD artwork appears to be new, and the original album art is preserved. The original albums are remastered by Bob Drake, and I’ve only just begun to listen to them, but they sound fantastic.

Perfectly timed for the band’s 25th anniversary, this box is a fitting tribute to one of the great early avant-rock pioneers. It remains to be seen whether the three discs of reworkings will make it worth shelling out $70 for the box if you already own the three original albums - but I would say any big-time fan of this group should be drooling over it.

The singular genius of Miles Davis

Monday, December 1st, 2003

I mentioned this neat little tidbit in a conversation with a friend yesterday, and I was inspired to go look it up: from Paul Tingen’s book Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991 -

The results of this session were compiled… in the first track on Jack Johnson, called “Right Off.” It begins with [guitarist John] McLaughlin, [bassist Michael] Henderson, and [drummer Billy] Cobham grooving along on the “boogie in E,” with McLaughlin’s inspired comping at times bordering on solo guitar. At 1:38 the guitarist takes down the volume, and at 2:11 he modulates to B-flat to heighten the dramatic effect of Miles’ entry. However, Henderson misses McLaughlin’s modulation, and carries on playing in E. In the middle of this clash of tonalities Miles decides to make his entrance, at 2:19. He starts by playing a D-flat (C-sharp), the minor third in B-flat and the major sixth in E. It is an ingenious choice because the note is effective in either key. Miles then plays twelve staccato B-flat notes, phrasing them on the beat to drive the band on, and also as if to nudge Henderson towards the B-flat tonality. Henderson gets the message, comes into line by modulating to B-flat at 2:33, and Miles carries on, giving one of the most commanding solo performances of his career, with fast runs reaching into the higher register, and a loud, full, powerful tone.

Writer Stuart Nicholson rightly called Miles’ entry in “Right Off” “one of the great moments in jazz-rock.” It is also one of the most impressive examples of the “there are no mistakes” adage that Miles learned from Charlie Parker in the 1940s. Most musicians would have regarded the point when Henderson and McLaughlin were clashing with two such incompatible keys at E and B-flat as an embarrassing mistake and would have either stopped the band or instructed to producer to remove the section during editing. Very few would have considered, or have had the courage, to come in at such a moment. And even fewer would have been able to make it into a resounding success.

The passage continues on and cites a common quote usually attributed to Miles: “If you play a note you didn’t intend to play, what determines whether it sounds like a mistake or a moment of inspiration is the note you play after it.”

Incidentally, this is a great book. Tingen gives a great overview of Miles’ fusion output during the latter part of his career, going into great detail about each recording while still managing to keep a momentum throughout that keeps the entire book fascinating. I would easily recommend this book to anyone interested in this phase of Miles’ career - which should be many of you reading this site. I actually meant to post a full review when I initially read it, but it was in the middle of exams last spring and so I never got around to it. If and when I reread the book, I’ll be sure to write about it then.

Bitches Brew: it clicked!

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

Something about my listen to Bitches Brew yesterday really struck a chord with me, and I definitely enjoyed it more than I have in the past (which is saying something). It inspired me to go out and pick up some more electric Miles today, including the much-hyped Live at the Fillmore East: It’s About That Time (which I’ve wanted ever since I read Dominique’s review at Pitchfork). It’s all good stuff. This live album in particular just cooks all the way through, making the intellectual understanding I feel I lack when it comes to Bitches Brew totally irrelevant. Everything’s just more visceral - one of Miles’ solos in the first set’s “Spanish Key” is just unbelievable, pushing the trumpet way beyond what it should be capable of.

Bitches Brew: tough listen

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

It occurs to me as I listen to Miles DavisBitches Brew for the zillionth time that, although I’ve heard this album a zillion times and have enjoyed it with each listen, I still don’t have a good grasp on it. The pieces I like most (the four extended ones, particularly “Spanish Key”) are too long for me to hold them in my head all at once, and as a result I’ve never developed an understanding of their structure. (The fact that there aren’t exactly many conventionally memorable melodies obviously doesn’t help either.) As a result I always feel a bit uncomfortable listening to Bitches Brew - while at any moment I’m usually really liking what I’m hearing, I’m still unable to put any given moment into a larger context.

Guess that just means I’ll have to listen to it more.

Mos Def, electric Miles, and more

Saturday, February 24th, 2001

For some reason, I just can’t seem to really get into Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides. I can’t really put my finger on why, but if I had to guess, I think it’s because the production gets in the way. It’s too forward in the mix, and distracts from the actual rapping. Also, it tends to be quite choppy and stop-and-go, which makes it still more distracting. The whole affair, because the production is so loud and so distinctive, gets to be overbearing after a while.

After reading on the ProgAndOther list that Miles DavisAura is probably the best of his otherwise pedestrain 80s output (complete with weird time sigs, spacey synth work, and John McLaughlin), I picked it up on a whim today (also got the new Tortoise). I must say, I don’t much like it. The electronic drums really rub me the wrong way, especially when they lay into lame beats, as in the first half of “Orange”. Davis’ soloing is still great, but I can’t get over those goddamn drums. Oh well.

I was at an interesting party last night in which the music consisted of two guys improvising (quite skillfully, I’d have to say) on acoustic guitars, one on dulcimer, and one playing percussion with hardcover books and metal cups. It was pretty damn cool. Someone there mentioned that she always thought the dulcimer was a much, much better instrument than the guitar, with a sweeter, more soulful sound. I’d have to agree that it has a very pleasant timbre, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a better instrument necessarily. Hmm.

Recently I’ve been listening a lot to the new Mori Stylez album. It’s in a similar vein as their first album, but a bit more polished and with much more emphasis on the wind instruments. I like it a lot, but some of the compositions are still a bit too long. I’ll write a full review soon… it’s taking me a lot longer than I expected to digest the whole thing.

Bitches Brew is amazing

Sunday, September 3rd, 2000

I tell you, Bitches Brew is absolutely fantastic. I spent several hours the last few days studying it closely, and it’s utterly breathtaking. Live-Evil has louder grooves and is easier to digest on casual listening, but Bitches Brew is just incredible. Is the box set worth getting, even at its astronomical price for 4CDs? (Hell, The Great Deceiver is only 4CDs and costs $70, but it’s worth every penny…)

Gary Bartz on performing with Miles Davis

Friday, May 5th, 2000

I like this:

Then as now, I never knew the names of the songs. We were playing music. Our concerts used to last an average of two hours, nonstop. People and musicians would be amazed at how we knew what song was what. We knew, but that was missing the point. It didn’t really matter about the names. What do you call a beautiful day?
Gary Bartz, sax (liner notes to Miles Davis’