September 18, 2015

Miles Davis - Miles Davis & The Modern Jazz Giants (1956)

Miles Davis was finished with cool jazz once white people started playing around with it and moved onto what the world at the time knew as modern jazz (small group bop and ballad music). On all of the songs except 'Round Midnight (recorded in 1956 when he exclusively played with his quintet), he plays with the Modern Jazz Quartet (but subbing their regular pianist, John Lewis, for Thelonious Monk), a group known for their intricate chamber jazz that often parlayed on a relaxed pace and softer, minimal solos. Much of the acclaim for the most widely known jazz album of all time, Kind Of Blue, stems from how well Miles can command his music's negative space, and I think he learned how to do that so well by practicing on albums like this. Take this little snippet, for example; about halfway through Monk's solo on take two of The Man I Love he seemingly lays out, leaving nothing but a few bars of Kenny Clarke and Percy Heath laying down the rhythm. Miles doesn't know what happened and tries to salvage the track by soloing himself; Monk then frustratedly comes back to his solo and Miles coolly plays off the interjection, letting Monk finish the solo. Aside from what Monk and Bud Powell had already done, jazz music was not yet used to this deeper level of improvisation and communication between artists, especially when dealing with the weird concept of laying out a couple bars to make a solo somehow speak more.

Trumpet trios are almost unheard of, and while this isn't a true trumpet trio, he refuses to play at the same time with Monk--his argument was that Monk's style was too unique and off-kilter to match any horn besides John Coltrane or Charlie Rouse, let alone a trumpet, an inherently less flexible instrument. Even if he's not the most technically skilled, there aren't many trumpet players that know how to successfully play on top of nothing but a bustling snare rhythm. This album is pretty ahead of its time and displays Monk in some of his finest moments. Unfortunately, Miles Davis & The Modern Jazz Giants seems to be overlooked in light of Bags' Groove, but I think it's equally as good and provides just as much insight to the morphing 50s jazz world. Even if you're unfamiliar with jazz music and have no idea what any of this review is supposed to mean (which I'm almost entirely bullshitting anyway), give this album a listen because it's simply just very pretty ballad jazz.