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Miles' sophisticated masterpiece,
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This review is from: Miles Smiles (Audio CD)
Although widely acknowledged by many as the greatest small group of all time in the history of jazz, it is still surprising just how good this collection of single takes by Miles' second quintet is. I understand that these records did not sell as well at the time as his earlier work and perhaps the fact that themes such as "Dolores" and "Gingerbread boy" are almost limited to motifs made the records less appealing than the records he put out in the 1950's. With the passage of time, it is possible to see that the "Downbeat" readers who voted this the best jazz record of 1967 were the ones who were correct as there is a density of "real" music on "Miles Smiles" which surpasses nearly all other groups.
It is difficult to single out any particular track and all five performers are at the absolute peak of their game. There is an aggression with Miles' trumpet that marks this out as one of his finest performances in the studio and I feel that Herbie Hancock's piano is stunning on the record throughout even though his solo on "Circle" is rightly singld out for praise by critics and scholars. Elsewhere, Wayne Shorter is hugely compelling both as a soloist and composer (particularly "Orbits") and Tony William's crashing symbol work engulfs the band with an intense level of energy. The unsung hero for me is bassist Ron Carter whose playing is shown on this record to be pivotal to the overall success of the quintet . Check out the album's best track "Freedom Jazz Dance" which slips in and out of various grooves, at one time popping out a really funky line against the tsunami of William's symbols.
Rightly praised, this record represents the conclusion of a 2 year hiatus for the quintet in the studio after their debut "ESP" and shows just how much they had grown as a band. This represent a little under quarter of their studio work with the band changing it's line up by the time "Filles de Kilamanjiro" was recorded. For me, "Miles Smiles" catchs the band performing at an extremely high level and is a record that yields more with each listen. More than the over-familiar "Kind of Blue", "Miles Smiles" demonstrates why Miles Davis was one of the towering figures in 20th Century music and presents a line up whose contributions still seem fresh 45 years later. Probably the best album Miles produced with a small group. Essential.