Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Miles Davis - 1969 - In A Silent Way

Miles Davis 
In A Silent Way

01. Shhh / Peaceful
02. In a Silent Way / It's About That Time

Miles Davis – trumpet
Wayne Shorter – soprano saxophone
John McLaughlin – electric guitar
Chick Corea – electric piano
Herbie Hancock – electric piano
Joe Zawinul – organ
Dave Holland – double bass
Tony Williams – drums

"Miles' audience isn't where it used to be but neither is his music" was used to market the new releases of Miles Davis' indefatigably changing music in the late 60's that caused seismic shifts in the world of jazz and completely had redirected it into new and fresh territories. In a career that stretched five decades Miles Davis did more than just become a star—this enigmatic 20th century icon fused an astonishing array of different musical styles, refused to be musically anchored in one place, broke down racial barriers, while demonstrating that the work of classical composers such as Debussy and Messianen, could be easily absorbed into the great black art of improvisation. It may sound simple, but nevertheless it's still true: He was many different things to many different people.

In the mid-60s, Miles career had peaked with his famed second quintet. At the time many had expected him to continue his days by doing the same thing—to play jazz music and to invent new styles along the way. This quintet brought Davis' characteristic mixture of modal and hard bop techniques to a peak of perfection until the group disbanded in 1968, by which his attention had begun to turn towards radical new paths.

Around that time, the 60's saw radical and exciting changes in the music climate in all genres and styles: rock and soul had won over huge audiences and cultural cachet. In classical music minimalism began to emerge as the new avant-garde with its hypnotic drones and repetition, that shifted away the attention from composer Schoenberg and Serialism. And in jazz, the New Thing, led by Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, also went further: they subverted, altered and changed the strict rules of jazz.

By 1968, Davis was into his 40s and the youth culture had been listening to popular music of the day from Motown soul and funk, to James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, and not so much acoustic contemporary jazz, regardless how good it was. As someone who has never opted for walking the beaten track he did something that the jazz elitists never forgave him: he connected with the youths and delved into the primitive world of rock music and started to incorporate electronic instruments, rock and funk rhythms into his music. He even used to hang out with Hendrix with whom he even planned a collaboration that never materialized because of guitarist's premature death.

Ten years after the watershed Kind of Blue, (Columbia, 1959), that changed the way people looked at jazz, Miles booked a Columbia label's studio but this time with a new concept. That concept was based on his old partner arranger Gil Evan's approach to textures, harmony and layering and he sketched pieces for multiple keyboards and funk rhythm patterns. His usual acoustic combo was augmented by electric pianists Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea. A young guitarist named John McLaughlin, who had recently left London, was brought in by chance, and another Englishman, who was part of Miles' working band, was brought for the sessions, bassist Dave Holland. Over three days they recorded music that lingered between improvisation, composition, funk and rock grooves, and studio sorcery that producer Teo Macero had edited down to two album sides entitled In a Silent Way.

This is the point when Miles left conventional forms of jazz behind altogether, and moved into completely new ground. There are no rules to this music and the ethereal, after-hours mood is similar to that of Kind of Blue. What began as a simmering low-key pot of rhythmically driven sound became an intriguingly beautiful sound painting. "Shh/Peaceful" is a moody and restrained track, slowly opening with whispers of melodies, its textures shifting and blurring. The players pick up on each other, gently carrying the melodies or leaving them to quietly dissolve.

The title track summons all the emotional contemplation from Miles before he dives into the rock maelstrom of the album's closing fifteen minutes. The incredible trumpet sound that carves its way through an avalanche of shimmering keyboards and gentle guitar fills portrays a musician that wasn't afraid to unite black musical styles with the contemporary sounds of the day in his quest for melodic tranquility. And the sound of this this vinyl only reissue is pristine and beautiful, which adds to its allure, and the reissue mastering by engineer Allan Tucker, adds warmth and depth that the CD lacks. A real care has been taken about the sonics of the original record without simply forcing up the loudness and as a result squashing the dynamic range in order to suit the iPod generation.

This music was and still is as much an enigma as its maker. But In a Silent Way can tell people more about Miles Davis than Miles Davis could have. There is no doubt that Miles, as many times in his career, felt enervated, energized and refreshed by the youthful vigor and excitement around him, and the band was obviously eager to earn the maestro's favor.

With it, the concept of jazz fusion had been invented and Miles never glanced back. The record not only triggered the careers of many artists that participated in the making of this music but it also inspired countless of other artists and it nourished music that subsequently led to many crossovers and fusions of musics that are happening to this very day and will be happening for eons to come. In retrospective, it feels less of a seismic shift, and more of a new branch on a tree.

In A Silent Way Miles Davis Columbia
BY LESTER BANGS November 15, 1969

This is the kind of album that gives you faith in the future of music. It is not rock and roll, but it's nothing stereotyped as jazz either. All at once, it owes almost as much to the techniques developed by rock improvisors in the last four years as to Davis' jazz background. It is part of a transcendental new music which flushes categories away and, while using musical devices from all styles and cultures, is defined mainly by its deep emotion and unaffected originality.

Miles has always gone his own way, a musician of strength and dignity who has never made the compromise (so poisonous to jazz now) with "pop" fads. It is a testimony to his authenticity that he has never worried about setting styles either, but continued his deeply felt experiment for two decades now. Albums like Miles Ahead, Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain simply do not get old, and contain some of the most moving experiences that any music has to offer. In his new album, the best he has made in some time, he turns to "space music" and a reverent, timeless realm of pure song, the kind of music which comes along ever so often and stops us momentarily, making us think that this perhaps is the core around which all of our wayward musical highways have revolved, the primal yet futuristic and totally uncontrived sound which gives the deepest, most lasting sustenance to our souls, the living contemporary definition of great art.

The songs are long jams with a minimum of preplanned structure. That they are so cohesive and sustained is a testament to the experience and sensitivity of the musicians involved. Miles' lines are like shots of distilled passion, the kind of evocative, liberating riffs that decades of strivers build their styles on. Aside from Charles Mingus, there is no other musician alive today who communicates such a yearning, controlled intensity, the transformation of life's inchoate passions and tensions into aural adventures that find a permanent place in your consciousness and influence your basic definitions of music. And his sidemen also rise to the occasion, most of them playing better than I have ever heard them before. Certainly Herbie Hancock (piano), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), and Joe Zawinul (organ) have never seemed so transported. The miracle of jazz is that a great leader can bring merely competent musicians to incredible heights of inspiration —; Mingus has always been famous for this, and Miles has increasingly proven himself a master of this incredibly delicate art.

The first side is taken up by a long jam called "Shhh/Peaceful." Tony Williams' cymbal-and-brush work and the subtle arabesques of Zawinul's organ set a space trip, a mood of suspended time and infinite interior vistas. But when Miles enters, the humanity and tenderness of his trumpet's soft cries are enough to bring you tears. I've heard that when he was making this album, Miles had been listening to Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, but the feeling here is closer to something like "2000 Light Years From Home" by the Stones. It is space music, but with an overwhelmingly human component that makes it much more moving and enduring than most of its rock counterparts.

Side two opens and closes with the best song on the album, a timeless trumpet prayer called "In a Silent Way." There has always been something eternal and pure in Miles' music, and this piece captures that quality as well as anything he's ever recorded. If, as I believe, Miles is an artist for the ages, then this piece will be among those that stand through those vast tracks of time to remind future generations of the oneness of human experience.

Between the two takes of "Silent Way" lies "It's About That Time," a terse, restrained space jam somewhat reminiscent of the one on the first side but a bit sharper, allowing more of Miles' fierce blues ethos to burn through. This is the one that might be connected to Miles' interest in Hendrix and Sly.

They say that jazz has become menopausal, and there is much truth in the statement. Rock too seems to have suffered under a numbing plethora of standardized Sounds. But I believe there is a new music in the air, a total art which knows no boundaries or categories, a new school run by geniuses indifferent to fashion. And I also believe that the ineluctable power and honesty of their music shall prevail. Miles Davis is one of those geniuses.

Listening to Miles Davis' originally released version of In a Silent Way in light of the complete sessions released by Sony in 2001 (Columbia Legacy 65362) reveals just how strategic and dramatic a studio construction it was. If one listens to Joe Zawinul's original version of "In a Silent Way," it comes across as almost a folk song with a very pronounced melody. The version Miles Davis and Teo Macero assembled from the recording session in July of 1968 is anything but. There is no melody, not even a melodic frame. There are only vamps and solos, grooves layered on top of other grooves spiraling toward space but ending in silence. But even these don't begin until almost ten minutes into the piece. It's Miles and McLaughlin, sparely breathing and wending their way through a series of seemingly disconnected phrases until the groove monster kicks in. The solos are extended, digging deep into the heart of the ethereal groove, which was dark, smoky, and ashen. McLaughlin and Hancock are particularly brilliant, but Corea's solo on the Fender Rhodes is one of his most articulate and spiraling on the instrument ever. The A-side of the album, "Shhh/Peaceful," is even more so. With Tony Williams shimmering away on the cymbals in double time, Miles comes out slippery and slowly, playing over the top of the vamp, playing ostinato and moving off into more mysterious territory a moment at a time. With Zawinul's organ in the background offering the occasional swell of darkness and dimension, Miles could continue indefinitely. But McLaughlin is hovering, easing in, moving up against the organ and the trills by Hancock and Corea; Wayne Shorter hesitantly winds in and out of the mix on his soprano, filling space until it's his turn to solo. But John McLaughlin, playing solos and fills throughout (the piece is like one long dreamy solo for the guitarist), is what gives it its open quality, like a piece of music with no borders as he turns in and through the commingling keyboards as Holland paces everything along. When the first round of solos ends, Zawinul and McLaughlin and Williams usher it back in with painterly decoration and illumination from Corea and Hancock. Miles picks up on another riff created by Corea and slips in to bring back the ostinato "theme" of the work. He plays glissando right near the very end, which is the only place where the band swells and the tune moves above a whisper before Zawinul's organ fades it into silence. This disc holds up, and perhaps is even stronger because of the issue of the complete sessions. It is, along with Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew, a signature Miles Davis session from the electric era.

Miles Davis
The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions

101. Mademoiselle Mabry
102. Frelon Brun
103. Two Faced
104. Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams Process
105. Splash: Interlude 1/Interlude 2/Interlude 3
106. Splashdown: Interlude 1 (no horns)/Interlude 2 (no horns)

201. Ascent
202. Directions, I
203. Directions, II
204. Shhh/Peaceful
205. In a Silent Way
206. In a Silent Way
207. It's About That Time

301. The Ghetto Walk
302. Early Minor
303. Shhh/Peaceful/Shhh
304. In a Silent Way/It's About That Time/In a Silent Way

Miles Davis – trumpet
Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone (Disc 1: All), soprano saxophone
John McLaughlin – electric guitar (Disc 2: Tracks 4-7; Disc 3: All)
Chick Corea – electric piano
Herbie Hancock – electric piano
Joe Zawinul – organ (Disc 2; Disc 3)
Dave Holland – double bass
Tony Williams – drums
Jack DeJohnette – drums (Disc 2: Tracks 1-3)
Joe Chambers – drums (Disc 3: Tracks 1 and 2)

Recorded September 24, 1968-February 20, 1969

Of all the recording sessions completed by Miles Davis with his various bands, the sessions surrounding In a Silent Way Sessions in 1968 and 1969 are easily the most mysterious and enigmatic. For starters, they signified the completion of his transformation from acoustic to electric sound, and secondly, they marked the complete dissolution of the "second" quintet of Davis, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, and Ron Carter that had begun on Filles de Kilimanjaro. The addition of Chick Corea as a second keyboard player and the replacement of Ron Carter with Dave Holland had changed the sound of the band's dynamic, textural, and rhythmic palettes. The final break with Davis' own previous musical sound happened when he added guitarist John McLaughlin and keyboardist/composer Joe Zawinul (for a temporary three-keyboard sound).
The music on the In a Silent Way Sessions comes packaged three ways, all of it chronologically ordered: there is the material used to finish Filles de Kilimanjaro ("Mademoiselle Maby" and "Freon Brun"); material that has been, up until now, unissued in any form; session outtakes that appeared, in edited form, on Circle in the Round, Water Babies, and Directions; unissued and rejected takes; and finally, the music recorded for In a Silent Way itself as it was rehearsed, played, and finally, heavily edited into the released album, which also appears here.
This was an ambitious undertaking, even if it only covered six months in the recording life of Davis (September 1968 through February 1969), whose musical inspirations and directions were crisscrossing as they were changing direction. With the exception of one tune, Davis or Zawinul composed everything here. Zawinul, though a jazz veteran, was discovering new ways to write -- particularly since the advent of the electric piano -- and proved to be a profound influence on his employer. The other heavy influence on Davis during this volatile, fertile period was Tony Williams, who was soaking up the pop music of the day, from the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's album (via a girlfriend's suggestion) to the in-his-prime James Brown, to Jimi Hendrix.
On disc one the set begins with the missing tracks from the quintet box set: "Mademoiselle Mabry" and "Frelon Brun." Hearing them in this context, as the first complete expressions of Davis' new sound, is revelatory. For the first time the three-chord vamp in "Mademoiselle Mabry" comes across as the fitting tribute to Hendrix it should have been, echoing the turnaround tags in "The Wind Cries Mary." These tracks mark the entrance of Dave Holland into the band and the first marked absence of Hancock. The contrast in styles, from Hancock's chunky, groove-laden chords and single-note runs and Corea's deep, cerebral spaciousness, is remarkable; it's a wonder they were issued on the same record at all. The simple, slow jam riff the former tune evokes was, in some way, the cornerstone on which the material for these sessions would be built, while the latter provided the space and pace for its establishment.
The elegantly spaced-out "Two Faced" and "Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams Process" were recorded as a sextet with Hancock. Both tunes are a showcase for the interplay between both keyboardists and Holland, whose near-mystical lyricism was exactly what Davis was looking for in a bass player -- one who could change the role of the instrument in an ensemble setting. The loose-jam feeling on these tunes could be heard by some as meandering, but it would be shortsighted to assume this for the entire picture. The various extrapolations on blues-feel and meter -- moving them into modal settings and then deconstructing these for a streamlined, open music that allowed for both improvisation and direct musical interplay between various members -- were integral, and created in Davis' music a space that changed jazz forever.
Disc one ends with the full version of "Splash" that appeared on Circle in the Round. Here, all of its four interludes are included after the unedited version of the tune. All of the interludes were recorded as scripted fragments with no improvisation and featured Hancock playing electric harpsichord and Corea on organ. Lastly we get "Splashdown," the first Davis recording that features Zawinul and the three-keyboard lineup. Here, too, the track was unissued and one has to wonder why because the dialogue between the three principals, and Holland and Williams, is remarkable -- Davis is all but absent, but it hardly matters as Shorter covers his territory well. With two electric pianos and an organ, the tune is so psychedelic and fat; full of a kind of inherent funkiness brought by the rhythm section, and Shorter underscores the jazz element in his solo by taking two cues from Coltrane and turning them into modal paragraphs. Both interludes that follow the tune were also rejected.
Disc two is where the In a Silent Way project begins in earnest. The next set is from the album issued in 1981 as Directions. The three tracks that comprise it reveal just how far Davis was willing to take the massive keyboard section. With slow, drifting, methodical improvisation concerned more with the development of sound and texture than riffs and intervals, the Davis group drifts through "Ascent," with Zawinul keeping the color hushed and silvery as Hancock improvises and Corea plays a series of modulated, though very subtle, changes. The most noticeable change is on the driving "Directions," both pieces one and two. Williams has been replaced, for this session at least, with Jack DeJohnette, and the driving, slippery force of DeJohnette's drumming with Shorter's precisely punctuated soprano solo is overwhelming in its glorious intensity. These are both unedited takes, recorded as they happened without studio trickery from Teo Macero. The second take is slower, more defined; the intimate speech that developed between Shorter and Zawinul here offers a first glimpse of the sound that would be the genesis of Weather Report a little over a year later. For the time being, largely due to the intuitive improvisation of DeJohnette's drumming, the sound of "Directions" was a rock sound with wild intervalic fanfare and slippery rhythms shifting under the explosive interplay between soloists and ensemble.
From the middle to the end of disc two, the In a Silent Way project begins to take shape. The first version of "Shhh/Peaceful" rings with the presence of John McLaughlin's guitar. The first version is a bit faster from the jump than the one released later -- and heavily edited. There is no chord structure to the tune; there's just a small groove figure with solo vamps appearing all over it. The bassline is doubled by Corea's electric piano; Hancock's silky piano accompaniment fills in the shapes. The hi-hat and McLaughlin's guitar shimmer colors and nuances as Davis enters with the only solo he could play to such beautiful accompaniment. There is an accented chordal passageway from the middle to the end where Zawinul enters, creating a series of overtones with his organ that lend a spectral, eerie presence to the proceedings. It dissolves eventually, only to give way to the intro to Zawinul's gorgeous "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time." The rehearsal version has a ton of chords compared to the way it was written; they were added as coloration devices to involve the instrumentalists in a deeper way. First, there is the reductionism of McLaughlin playing the melody in just one chord, and then Davis and Shorter enter to play over the Rhodes and doubled bassline.
When the early recorded versions are set in place, and McLaughlin opens the tune, you can feel how much the tune has developed from the rehearsal tape. The pace is tortoise-like; everything is gone from the mix, and there's just that guitar with Zawinul eventually adding his organ and Hancock slinking his piano into the intervals. When the band does enter, it's via Shorter's sweet, singing soprano rather than Davis' trumpet. It's reduced to essence as a melodic frame with no foundation to hook onto, as transitory and elegant as it is beautiful.
The suspended vamp that begins "It's About That Time" is a floating one; it never anchors itself to either E-or F-sharp. Hancock offers the chords and Corea and Zawinul join him, playing shifting, ghostly fills before McLaughlin jumps in and doubles the keyboards sleepily with a bluesy graciousness. The piece was recorded in sections, so everything we hear has an illusory quality to it, because Macero edited it all into one tune. Solos and density structures mark the individual takes; Hancock and McLaughlin deconstruct tonalities in favor of sound, creating overtonal ambiences.
The rest of the set offers finished, wonderfully remastered versions of both "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time" and "Shhh/Peaceful": those that appeared on the original LP. Bob Belden's revealing, insightful, and authoritative liner notes tell the fascinating story of how the recorded tracks were edited into final versions, so we won't go into it here. But the two other tracks recorded with the same band minus Tony Williams -- replaced by Joe Chambers, of all people -- are both unissued: "The Ghetto Walk" and "Early Minor." Both are deeply Hendrix-influenced, using his choice of keys and a series of sevenths around E-flat, B-flat, and A-flat, and finally shifting themselves, in transmuted form, to the big daddy of all rock keys, E. Both of these tracks, filled with space, blues, rock, and killer piano and organ fills, are rhythmically carried by Holland and danced through the pocket by Chambers, who, while not as muscular as either Williams or DeJohnette, was more nuanced as a blues player, which is what these two awesome numbers called for, as they turned out to be -- especially "Ghetto Walk" -- the precursors to the material that would be recorded for Jack Johnson a year later.
There is nothing extra in this set in terms of fluff, viscera, or detritus. All of the material included from these sessions offers perhaps the most fascinating look to date into the musical mind of Miles Davis, who was undergoing a revolution of his own -- he looked to the younger players for inspiration and guidance in how to handle the new forms; the liner notes bear this atypical personification out. Each track is an audible step in that development, and a step toward the goal of what would be the first Miles Davis "groove" album -- not in the Blue Note sense of the vernacular -- one of atmosphere and ambience and texture and drift -- not of melodies and changes. The package is handsome and well-illustrated to be sure, but the music alone is worth the package price. In many ways -- far more so than the Bitches Brew sessions -- this is the long-sought key that unlocks the door to the room that has the answers as to why and how Davis made such a complete break with his own music on In a Silent Way -- a music which he never returned to -- at least on record. It's the first box set in a long time that's been worth playing from beginning to end.


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  2. Incredible music. First time post here. Just wanted to say thank you for this amazing blog and the musical treasure within it.