JJ 01/69: Miles Davis – Miles in the Sky

First published Jazz Journal, January 1969


What with the pop-art cover, and Tony Williams’ R&B patterns on Stuff, I wondered what Miles was letting us in for. Surely he hadn’t succumbed to the pop-jazz fad? And if he had, it surely wasn’t due to the desire to make a fast buck. Miles has had more than a couple of dollars to rub together for quite some time now. Further, he’s never compromised his art for easy acceptance. So, the pop-jazz influence must result entirely from Miles’ admiration of the popsters. (He’s reported to listen mainly to pop groups nowadays).

What Miles has in fact done, on one track (Stuff) is to use certain effects from less exalted fields of music to add a certain extra piquancy to the performance. The theme statement (which, by the way, seems to go on forever, though it’s probably not more than a few minutes) is underpinned by Williams’ pop rhythms and Hancock’s electric piano, which sounds like an organ. Miles plays one of his choicest solos of recent years, starting from a remarkably simple basis. From time to time Williams explodes into his more usual style, which provides an effective contrast. Shorter plays completely in character, which throws his accompaniment into greater relief. Hancock makes good use of the characteristics of his instrument. A most successful track. The addition of George Benson to the quintet for Wayne Shorter’s Paraphernalia makes for a less happy blend. During the others’ solos, Benson comps rather ineffectually, only getting in Hancock’s way, whilst when it is Benson’s turn to solo, he sounds uncertain of himself (or the tune) and gives a poor account of himself – perhaps he felt out of his depth. Tony Williams’ Black Comedy is a fast, wild, pretty typical performance by the group. The composer is pretty busy and obtrusive, whilst Davis and Shorter are aggressive, abrupt and frantic. Miles’ second composition Country Son has sections by each soloist out of tempo, with a pop beat, and a straightlorward medium tempo jazz beat. Miles emerges best, his solo having the minimum strain, and the maximum invention.

I consider this to be one of Miles’ more worthwhile LPs in recent years, though I should point out that I regard Kind Of Blue’ as Miles’ peak, and find myself out of sympathy in general with the group’s current conception.
Mike Shera

(a) Stuff; (b) Paraphernalia (21½ min) – (c) Black Comedy; Country Son (21½ min)
(a) Miles Davis (tpt); Wayne Shorter (ten); Herbie Hancock (elec-pno); Ron Carter (bs); Tony Williams (dm).
(b) George Benson (gtr) added; Hancock plays pno.
(c) as (b), but Benson omitted.
(CBS 63352 / 37s 6d)