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Miles' and Gil's Iberian Excursion,
This review is from: Sketches Of Spain (Audio CD)
"Sketches of Spain" recorded in 1959-60 was the third project resulting from the long collaboration between Miles Davis and innovative master of orchestral arrangements Gil Evans. The album explores the musical styles of the Iberian Peninsula and has a distinctive feel quite different from any of Miles' other work, often described as something of a musical landmark. A listener familiar with classical music who has never been able to connect with jazz might find this collection an immediately accessible gateway.
The opener is an extended re-interpretation of the second movement of J. Roderigo's modern impressionist-classical piece "Concierto di Aranjuez", which Miles listened to repeatedly in 1959 and declared "I couldn't get it out of my mind." Gil's orchestration for an ensemble of brass and woodwind anchors the melody, is faithful to Roderigo's score and captures the spirit of the original to perfection. It is more classical (i.e. rigid) in structure than normally found in jazz, allowing only constrained improvisation around the melody. In re-interpreting the original score for the guitar, Miles responds to the more formalised framework with understated mastery and works with the orchestra to fine result: a satisfying and distinctive mood-piece which lingers in the memory. Roderigo, by the way, didn't like it: the brass-dominated orchestral sound too much of a departure from his vision; the absence of the Spanish guitar at the heart of the piece, and the second movement of the concerto removed from the context of the faster and more upbeat first and third movements not at all to the composer's taste. However, in the context of the other pieces on Miles and Gil's "Sketches of Spain" it fits perfectly and sets the mood.
Three shorter pieces, "Will o' the Wisp", "The Pan Piper" and "Saeta" follow, each different but blending seamlessly with "Aranjuez" in style and confirming the mood. The long closer, "Solea" (12.08) is an attention-grabber grounded on Gil's spellbinding percussion-dominated orchestration, an invitation to which Miles responds with intelligence and expressive sensitivity to weave a fine tapestry filled with moments of tension and delight, still in the Iberian mode.
"Sketches of Spain" is a fine album, distinctive and special, which should never be absent from any serious collection of Miles Davis' key works. Even if you're not really a fan of jazz in general or of Miles in particular but love the Concierto di Aranjuaz or the music of Spain, consider making an exception and adding it to your collection. For a Miles Davis fan, it's indispensable.