Miles Davis: On Film


A leading appeal of this two-CD set is the inclusion of the original soundtrack performed by Miles Davis’s quintet for Louis Malle’s 1958 film Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud. Known in the UK as Lift to the Scaffold and in the USA as Frantic, the film starred Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet. The complete suite, encompassed by tracks 1-10 of CD 2, was first issued on a 10-inch LP by the small French label Fontana and was only available in France. Years later it came out briefly in the United States. After both 10-inch LPs were discontinued, a 12-inch version titled Jazz Track appeared in the States only. There were two editions of this with different album covers but they both had the same content.

Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud was the first film to integrate jazz with a story that had nothing to do with jazz or indeed music at all. Davis’s quintet improvised the whole score while the film was played to them. Apart from one piece (“Sur l’Autoroute”) based on the chords of “Sweet Georgia Brown”, the band members had only the slimmest of guidance as to what to do. Davis just asked them to play two chords – D minor and C7 – ad lib, with fours bars each. Their subsequent improvisations match the noirish atmosphere of the film perfectly – moodiness is interspersed with frenetic passages; the bass simulates footsteps; Davis’s trumpet conveys loneliness; bleakness and tension pervade.

The rest of CD2 reissues the Davis numbers that were used in the soundtracks to Lenny Bruce – Swear to Tell the Truth (1998), Ginger & Rosa (2012), Zodiac (2007), Tacones Lejanos – High Heels (1991) and the television film The Sound of Miles Davis (1959). The latter featured his band between recording sessions for Kind of Blue and also performing a medley backed by the Gil Evans Orchestra. Other than “Freddie Freeloader” all tracks from the seminal Kind of Blue have been used in films at one time or another and they are reissued in this CD set.

CD1 provides all the Davis numbers used in the soundtracks to Finding Forrester (2000), Kerouac – The Movie (1985), A Bronx Tale (1993), The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997), The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), La Flor de Mi Secreto – The Flower of My Secret (1995), In the Line of Fire (1993) and Miles Ahead (2015) – the recent biopic which focused mainly on Davis’s electronic period with just a few examples from his 50s repertoire.

In terms of concept, apart from Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud where you get the whole album in consecutive order, listening to this set is a little like receiving music via one of those random CD players that people have in cars. I’ll leave you to rate the construct on a star system should you wish to do so. In terms of musical quality though, how could Kind of Blue or indeed any of the other groundbreaking tracks here receive less than five stars?

CD1: Miles Ahead; So What; Concierto de Aranjuez; Blue Haze; Flamenco Sketches; Move; Nature Boy; Solea; All Blues (78.45)
CD 2: Générique; L’Assassinat de Carala; Sur l’Autoroute; Julien Dans L’Ascenseur; Florence sur Les Champs-Élysées; Dîner au Motel; Evasien de Julien; Visite du Vigile; Au Bar du Petit Bac; Chez le Photographe du Motel; It Never Entered My Mind; Well You Needn’t; Tempus Fugit; Blue in Green; Solar; Saeta; So What; Medley: The Duke / Blues for Pablo / New Rhumba (77.56)

CD1 and CD2 (11-15): Davis (t, flh) all tracks with, collectively:
Cannonball Adderley, Lee Konitz (as); John Coltrane, Jimmy Heath (ts); Gerry Mulligan (bar); JJ Johnson, Kai Winding (tb); Bill Barber (tu); Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Horace Silver, John Lewis (p); Paul Chambers, Percy Heath, Charles Mingus (b); Max Roach, Jimmy Cobb, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke (d); Elvin Jones (d, pc); Gil Evans Orchestra.
CD2 (1-10): Miles Davis (t, flh); Barney Wilen (ts); René Urtreger (p); Pierre Michelot (b); Kenny Clarke (d). EU, 2018.
Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55730