COMPOSERS: Miles Davis & Gil Evans
LABELS: Columbia Legacy
WORKS: Complete Columbia Studio Recordings
CATALOGUE NO: CXK 67397 (distr. Sony)
These recordings number among the finest in jazz. Included are Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain, works that present trumpeter and flugelhornist Miles Davis in concerto-like settings with an orchestra arranged and conducted by Gil Evans. Combining brass, woodwind, string bass, drums and occasionally harp, Evans succeeded in weaving improvisation into settings of rich tonal colour without sounding contrived. Davis, an original yet sometimes idiosyncratic player, was given the story-telling privilege and his solos still wound. Creating their own orbit, adjacent to but not part of the jazz mainstream, and not directly influencing jazz, as other major recordings have done, Davis and Evans produced some of the most adventurously crafted and emotionally satisfying works in jazz. A window into their creative processes emerges through the inclusion of alternate takes and revealing rehearsal sessions.
Up until the making of these albums in the late Fifties, jazz improvisation had been recorded in ‘real’ time. Yet in classical music during the early Fifties, English producer Walter Legge realised that a kind of perfection could be achieved in the recording studio by manipulating the truth, for example the dubbing-in of the top notes of Kirsten Flagstad’s Isolde by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. Such studio creations demand to be heard on their own terms, for what they are, rather than what they are patently not, a ‘captured’ live performance, since the most important thing about art is not the means used to achieve an end, but the end it achieves.
Miles Davis was one of the first jazz musicians to understand the implications of this and with 1957’s Miles Ahead he utilised an exceedingly large number of edited or spliced takes, overdubs and post-production work (all helpfully indexed) to produce a classic. Similarly, Porgy and Bess – one of his all-time best-sellers – and Sketches of Spain were the product of deft post-production construction. Evans’s role in all this was central. His orchestrations, while emphasising the concerto aspect, were of equal importance to the soloist, yet the totality of the two became greater than either component part. His arrangements were unique in that they were often recompositions of the songwriters original intentions, recast to suit the need of the moment, such as the introduction to ‘Bess, You Is My Woman Now’ that owes nothing to Gershwin’s original score, or ‘Gone’, which is entirely his own writing.
While Davis improvised over chord progressions in Miles Ahead (an album unique for its transitional passages between tunes), by 1958’s Porgy and Bess and 1959’s Sketches of Spain he frequently uses a modal framework as the basis for improvisation. Even today, Porgy and Bess remains one of the most accomplished large-scale jazz works ever recorded, while Sketches of Spain, almost exclusively pre-written with exception of the track ‘Solea’, nevertheless retains the soul of jazz. The set, remastered using the 20-bit mapping process, also includes the album Quiet Nights, a small group session with Bob Dorough and two unreleased suites, The Time of the Barracudas and Falling Water. SN