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The Best Jazz Album Ever?,
By A Customer
This review is from: Kind Of Blue (Audio CD)
Kind of Blue is a famous and influential album, the number 1 jazz best seller and - some would say - the best jazz album ever. This particular CD edition is the one to have because it has as a bonus an alternate take of "Flamenco Sketches" and more importantly, as the liner note points out, the 20-bit re-mastering gives the music a greater depth and richness of tone and it now plays at the correct pitch (all previous versions on LP, tape or CD have played at the wrong pitch, as musicians who tried to play along with it have discovered).
The album is famous partly for the way in which it combined modal harmonies with more traditional structures, giving the improvising soloist a greater range and freedom in his solos. This in itself marked a new phase in Miles's continually developing music, although the implications of the music were probably exploited most fully by John Coltrane in his subsequent work after leaving Miles's group. Well as he plays here, I've always felt that Coltrane's style and approach often fitted a bit uncomfortably within Miles's groups, especially at faster tempos. His rhythmic approach seemed never wholly compatible with that of his colleagues and I think he only really began to "swing", in the particular style he went on to develop, in his famous quartet of the early sixties. But the fairly slow pace on this album enable him to play with more relaxation (if that's an appropriate word) than was often the case in previous recordings with Miles. He solos with typical probing intensity on the medium tempo tracks and with a kind of dignified tenderness on the slow pieces, "Flamenco Sketches" and "Blue in Green". There's a school of thought which holds that Cannonball Adderley, even if he is a technically accomplished musician playing at his best here, is 'the weakest link' in this group, unable to make anything genuinely his own out of his Charlie Parker clichés. On the other hand, Miles Davis obviously thought him worth employing on what he seems to have regarded as an important project. I leave you to make your own judgement.
Miles himself sounds majestic and supremely confident throughout, subtly varying his tone and making typically creative use of "spaces" in his melodic lines. He had often been at his most inspired when playing on blues based themes at a steady walking pace which gave him the time to think ahead, 'place' his phrases and shape his solos, as he does here on "All Blues", "Freddie Freeloader" and (although it's not a blues) "So What". On "Flamenco Sketches" his tightly muted trumpet gives his playing a sense of barely controlled passion that anticipates some of his work on the Sketches of Spain album; on the lovely ballad "Blue in Green" his use of the mute conveys more of a wistful, piercing lyricism. Of central importance to the music is pianist Bill Evans. The eight months he had previously spent with the group (Miles had invited him back for Kind of Blue) convinced Miles that he was the right man for the kind of album he had in mind. Not only was Evans closely involved in the evolution of the music, but also his calm, poised, impressionistic playing - behind the soloists and in his own finely wrought solos - is enormously important in sustaining the mood of each piece. Listen to the cryptic way in which his simple motifs on "So What" and his shimmering trills on "All Blues" establish the mood of those pieces from their opening bars. And who else could have 'orchestrated' the haunting "Blue in Green" with such glowing lyricism? (There seems to me a distinct slackening of tension in "Freddie Freeloader", the one piece on which Evans doesn't play.) Underneath all this interesting work by the soloists there is the calm, disciplined drumming of Jimmy Cobb and the rock steady beat of the magnificent Paul Chambers on bass.
Kind of Blue as a jazz album is important historically, but it's also timeless. And its modal harmonies and feeling of 'stillness-under-the-surface' create for many listeners a sense that each time the music plays, time itself is suspended.