on 31 December 2003
“Jazz-rock fusion”… a label that has inspired dozens of mediocre records! But here it is in its primeval and arguably never to be bettered form – a groundbreaking showcase for the talents of artists at the peak of their skills and an addictive and quite brilliant example of true musical innovation.
Like “Kind of Blue” a decade earlier Miles Davis assembles a stunningly adept peer group – including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Jo Zawinul, John McLaughlin, Tony Williams, Chick Corea & Dave Holland – and then pushes their and his playing to previously undiscovered heights. The end result?… jazz improvisation at its very best, with nothing detracting from the unstoppable flow of the satisfyingly tight melodic structures, despite the enormous complexity of what is actually going on, and with the complete record merging into a gloriously unified whole.
“In a Silent Way” quickly draws you into its languidly ethereal atmosphere, driving poly-rhythms and wonderful extemporisations and, like all true jazz masterpieces, pays out enormous bonuses from repeat listening. One of the essential reasons why Miles Davis justifies his reputation and… a template for much future imitation and excess.
on 20 May 2001
This is simply glorious music. John McLaughlin's guitar playing at the beginning of track 2 is pure beauty. Miles himself plays less on this record than most of his others, but his influence can be felt echoing around the music. There are also hints on McLaughlin's music in this CD. Simple, open and spacious are all perfect descriptions of the tracks. My favourite moment is on "Shh/Peaceful" when Tony William's drums stop for a moment, leaving Wayne Shorter's saxophone floating through. Wonderful.
on 28 May 2004
'In a Silent Way' is one of many, many Miles Davis jazz records that should be taken down and noted by any Jazz lover. It is a little different from the norm, featuring just two tracks - but those two are expansive, brilliantly imagined and produced works of pure art.
Personally, I warm to the second, the title track more than the Corea/Hancock/Zawinul collaboration that is the first track. However, looking at the first one, it is also brilliantly true to form and is mystefying and incredible in itself. It's quiet, sloshing drum beat that runs right through the piece is perfect 'background whispering' to the voices of each of the instruments that ride above it. From Zawinuls organ, to Davis' own brilliant trumpet solos. From all the musicians however, these are never brash, never bold and always tasteful. The sound is complete and the oscilations from deep, magical space right back to quiet humming noise are simply mesmerising.
The second track is split into three parts. The first section is repeated after the simply gorgeous middle. Both of them are as equally well crafted as track one, but a little bit more outspoken, more definate in purpose. Particularly the middle section, which rings out more of the old trad. jazz we might have heard on 'Kind Of Blue' than anywhere else on the album. That in itself though is a relief. KOB was a masterpiece, and so is 'In a Silent Way'; but in its own... silent way.
Miles Davis’ career spanned nearly five decades, and he was the engine for much change in jazz. From the early be-bop days through his later fusion, Miles covered just about every type of jazz (with the exception of that abomination called “smooth jazz”). From the early records on Prestige, through the seminal Kind of Blue, to later albums like Tutu, Miles embraced change.
The year 1969 was exceptionally fecund, with the recording of two radically different albums: In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. The former is a collection of slow, almost ambient improvisations; the latter uses a similar approach, but with a powerful rhythm section. Both feature electric instruments and develop Miles’ version of jazz fusion.
In a Silent Way is just over 38 minutes and consists of two songs: Shhh/Peaceful and In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time. Recorded in one day, on February 18, 1969, about three hours of music was used to create these two tracks. With Teo Macero producing Miles for the first time, this record is partly the result of improvisations, partly the result of Macero’s work editing different sections together. For example, on Shhh/Peaceful, Macero took the first six minutes of the track and repeated them at the end, making a piece in three sections which, with this odd edit, works quite well.
While this record could be called fusion, it’s much more. There are electric keyboards, there’s a pulsing beat, but it doesn’t have the rhythmic drive that Bitches Brew shows. Shhh/Peaceful is more rhythmic; In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time shifts between sections that are almost ambient and parts that are more rhythmic. The music is simple, beautiful, and flows like waves.
The list of musicians on this album is one that looks like a hall of fame roster:
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
This was the first album that John McLaughlin recorded with Miles, and his contributions are excellent, especially in the second section of Shhh/Peaceful. Wayne Shorter has a great sound and his solos are beautiful. The combination of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock on electric piano, and Joe Zawinul on organ, gives a lush background to the soloists. And the rhythm section is tight.
This is one of Miles Davis’ finest albums, yet it seems that, these days, not too many people know about it. It’s a very accessible album, especially now that this type of long, spacy jamming has become a part of the musical landscape. In many ways, this is similar to the way the Grateful Dead would jam around Dark Star or Playing in the Band.
So if you don’t have this album, I strongly recommend it. If you do own it, then you may need to get The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions. This 3 1/2 hour set includes all the music recorded during this famous day, as well as the final album versions of the two tracks. If you like the music on the album, you’ll love the rest of the jamming from that day.
on 30 July 2005
I'm no expert when it comes to jazz, often finding that a lot of jazz music tends to fade into the background as you listen to it. Fine, I suppose, for coffee bars or dinner parties, when the focus tends to fall more on conversation, though perhaps not so riveting for solitary afternoon listens or late night exploration. Often, I've found jazz to be more rewarding when coupled with a more experimental rock sound, keeping the notion of long atmospheric improvisations intact, but advancing further with ideas of rhythm, melody and momentum.
One of my favourite albums is the self-titled debut of former Talk Talk member Mark Hollis, which takes elements of a jazz template and merges it with elements of rock and folk. It is through Hollis and his work with Talk Talk that I discovered the music of Miles Davis, with many people citing the influence of albums like Miles Smiles, Kind of Blue and In A Silent Way on those two Talk Talk classics, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. If you're familiar with those albums, particularly the more subdued Laughing Stock, then you'll have a vague idea of what to expect from this album... with the influence of In A Silent Way also finding it's way onto albums as disparate as Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, Dead Bees on a Cake by David Sylvian, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, Eno's Music for Films and Kid A/Amnesiac by Radiohead.
The music here is broken down into two tracks (although there are really four parts in total, or five if you count the reprise of the title track at the end) with the album opening with the epic improvisation piece, Shhh/Peaceful. The band that Davis had assembled for this album is immense, and, on the whole, would go on to help create the more dense and frightening sounds of his follow up album, the near legendary Bitches Brew. In A Silent Way is much more lethargic and (I suppose) more ambient (though that's a rather broad assessment!!) work compared to its follow up, though a few of the more tense instrumental arrangements do point towards tracks like Pharaoh's Dance and Spanish Key. However, on the whole, the album seems more like the natural progression from Kind of Blue into the kind of music that Miles would create for the latter half of his career.
The music covers a number of tempos, moving seamlessly from the lulled beauty of the title-track into It's About That Time, which is a little more robust. Miles was using three electric organs on this album, performed by luminaries like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, so the album has a sweeping, seamless sound that flows perfectly. Other musicians involved include Joe Zawinul on the third electric organ, John McLaughlin on guitar, Dave Holland on up-right bass, and Tony Williams on drums. The band is further complemented by Wayne Shorter's shimmering soprano saxophone, which adds the perfect balance to Davis's own astounding trumpet work (which is here, unrivalled).
The playing - right from the opening, hypnotic-slush of organs at the beginning of Shhh, right the way through to the interweaving trance-like horn-arrangements of In A Silent Way (which is the track that most pushes the similarities with something like Slim Slow Slider from Astral Weeks or the closing moments of Dick Parry's work on Shine On You Crazy Diamond) - is perfect, and creates a great atmosphere that never becomes stale. Miles and his producer Teo Macero arrange the album so that, even at it's most ambient, there's always something to hold our attention. Much of the music builds on Zawinul's organ, with a great dependency on the rhythm section of Holland and Williams. On top of this we get some great piano fills from Corea and Hancock, particularly on Peaceful, and some excellent and highly influential lead guitar work from McLaughlin (standouts abound throughout the second half of the album).
The music here manages to create a great atmosphere without substituting rhythm (take a listen to Miles' standout moment on It's About That Time to see what I mean)... whilst the use of instrumentation and the great approach to production (Davis and Macero using the idea of space and - unsurprisingly given the title implications - the use of silence and breaks to draw more attention to the notes being played!) is still as impressive as it would have been thirty-five years ago. It probably won't sound as revolutionary as it once did, what with other acts taking an influence from it, etc, though the music here is still expansive, rhythmic, intelligent and enjoyable... which is why In A Silent Way is one of those "jazz" albums that can probably be appreciated by people who don't necessarily understand or appreciate the genre.
on 8 June 2015
Over the years I have bought a wide variety of Miles Davis albums covering the various styles of his glittering career.
This album is my outright favourite - I just love it. It would be in my desert island selection.
Of MD albums Big Fun is up there followed closely by Kind of Blue.
Also have a soft spot for On the Corner - my first MD purchase, on vinyl in about 1976 - took some getting used to but started me on a fascinating journey.
For those who have never really clicked with Miles Davis this delightful, ambient and most interesting musical experience might be the key to the door you've never been able to open.
"In a Silent Way" is great late-night jazz, perfect in mood for those small hours after midnight, though it also works on a long, slow afternoon. Beautifully complex with overlaid keyboard playing from Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock (difficult to tell which of them is playing when, but hey who cares?) and virtuoso guitar from John McLaughlin complementing Miles's restrained trumpet and Wayne Shorter's soprano sax (credited on the cover of the CD as tenor, but in fact it's soprano), the ensemble weaves a spell so captivating and yet so accessible that even those normally left cold by Miles's experimental journeys into improvisation will be drawn into the magic.
"Shhhhh/Peaceful" sets the tone, ambient but just a little edgy with its minor-key melodic overlays gently inviting the listener's attention to the virtuoso playing, but never too insistent. The title track is a sparse, slow, late-night stretched-out mood-piece; relaxing and wonderful. "It's about that time" moves into a fuller but still-ambient space more adventurous in tone with a driving, positive bass line overlaid by trumpet and sax, again in the same minor key, before a reprise of the "In a Silent Way" theme returns to conclude the final minutes and bring the journey to a satisfying close.
The album is really one long piece with four sections, where one moves not-quite-seamlessly to the next, weaving an ever-more bewitching mood where the spell of early-hours intimacy is never broken. It's truly sublime.
Give it a listen. You'll like it.
on 11 August 2016
Just got this, it is basically two long tracks. Like most of his work, it's very good. Less mainstream than some, but is a bit smooth jazz style. Grown up sound.
Whatever else Davis was, he created great fluid & accessible jazz. Very few anywhere as good as his work. Very nice CD, really worthwhile. (delivered fine as well).
on 18 May 2000
At the time of release in 1969,this was Miles'first major foray into the Jazz/Rock fusion mode, an area where he had merely dabbled before.Unlike some Jazz/Rock of this era,this album has aged remarkably well. Miles has a supporting band of truly top musicians playing a funky electric music that washes over you in friendly atmospheric waves. This music has been described as 'Space' music where the spaces in the sparing performances contribute as much as the actual notes played.Others have said it is'spaced-out' music.Whatevever,the playing is tight but the improvisation is genuine and truly free of all restraints.This is an album that improves on repeated listenings and is well worth exploring.
Recorded in 1969, this was the apotheosis of the jazz fusion style that the Davis quintet had been developing over the last few years since the recording of ESP. It's a sublime record, and shows just what an innovator Davis was.
It takes the modal jazz styles that Davis had made his own over the previous decade, and deftly mixes them with elements such as electric guitars to provide two extended suites of music that are just someplace else. All the hallmarks are there, the polyrhythmic backing, the soaring solos, Miles' own sweet and lyrical trumpet weaving its way in and out of the tune. But there is something else, a feeling, an ambience that just lifts this to a new level and makes it music that you can just become completely lost in.
It's a stone cold classic, 5 stars.