Miles Davis: Miles Ahead

The inclusion of the very different 1953 Miles Ahead in this remastered vinyl edition clearly shows Davis's shift from bopper to balladeer


Although Davis and Gil Evans had worked together before, notably on the two charts the arranger provided for the 1949/50 nonet sessions that became Birth Of The Cool in 1957, this was the first full album with big band and soloist that they made together. It was a great success when first released in 1958 and the music hasn’t really dated at all.

Planned and put together by Miles, Gil and Columbia producer George Avakian, it features 10 varied selections linked them together with orchestral lines like (as the sleeve note writer of the original issue puts it) little concertos.

What stands out through the 37-minute programme is Miles’ melancholy flugelhorn solos as the orchestra provides sometimes gentle, sometimes thunderous backings. Listen particularly for Miles’ sad lyricism on Maids Of Cadiz as the orchestra provides murmuring reeds and rhythm and check out the soloist’s flamenco-flavoured blues lines on Blues For Pablo. Davis would return to the Spanish sound two years later on Flamenco Sketches.

Hear also Paul Chamber’s introduction to The Maids, Bill Barber’s lone tuba interjections behind Brubeck’s The Duke and Miles’ subtly changing moods as he interprets the various pieces.

Although Davis is the star of the show he is framed and showcased throughout by the orchestra. Evans’ use of dynamics is exemplary here as the orchestra either roars with a sudden explosion of brass and reeds or provides quiet, flowing passages with free-flowing rhythm. The good taste of Paul Chambers and Art Taylor ensures appropriate and always stimulating rhythmic backing.

The music is presented on a 180-gram limited edition LP which, newly remastered, brings this classic to sparkling life. This issue has a 1953 bonus track of Miles Ahead played by Davis with John Lewis on piano and Max Roach on drums. It’s a neat quartet track but has nothing in common with the 1957 orchestral work.

(1) Springsville; The Maids Of Cadiz; The Duke; My Ship; Miles Ahead; Blues For Pablo; New Rhumba; The Meaning Of The Blues; Lament; I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed; (2) Miles Ahead (41.12)
(1) Davis (flh) With 19-piece orchestra including Gil Evans (arr, cond); Ernie Royal (t); Frank Rehak, Jimmy Cleveland (tb); Lee Konitz (as); Bill Barber (bb); Paul chambers (b); Art Taylor (d). NYC, 6-27 May 1957.
(2) Miles Davis (t); John Lewis (p); Percy Heath (b); Max Roach (d). NYC, 19 May 1953.
Jazz Wax Records 4616