The Remastering of Miles Davis and Gil Evans

by

Mel Martin

Recently, I had the fortune of having a prolonged and, to me, profound conversation with the great drummer Al Foster. We were discussing the inability of many of today's younger jazz musicians to grasp the actual impact of the music that has so deeply influenced everything that has come since. Much of that music took place in the mid 'fifties into the 'sixties. We were both relating to the experience of literally witnessing the astonishing growth and development of musicians such as John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and, of course, Miles Davis. During this time Miles Davis was signed to Columbia Records after having been in somewhat of a decline due to his heroin addiction of the early 'fifties. He had done a number of classic recordings for Prestige with his famed quintet of John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. But going with CBS was a great leap forward for him.The man that signed him, producer George Avakian, wanted to build on that image thus we have a full fledged masterpiece called Miles Ahead which was, itself, built from the innovations of the earlier Birth of the Cool sessions on Capitol. The arranger for those sessions was Gil Evans and it was that empathetic pairing with Davis that led to the Miles Ahead date which were followed by further collaborations on Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and a partially completed Quiet Nights. This all took place in the brief period of three years between 1957 and 1960. All the while, Miles was also recording and working with his sextet with Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley which later evolved into the ground breaking quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Time is of only contextual interest as the music that manifested from the Davis - Evans collaboration is absolutely timeless and, perhaps, the most musically satisfying performances ever recorded.

CBS has begun to reissue literally all of the Miles Davis recordings on their Legacy series. Along with the original masters, we have outtakes, differing mixes, duplicate performances and, in the case of the Davis - Evans dates, we even have rehearsal takes. The first boxed set in the Legacy series was the Complete Plugged Nickel Sessions. They were outstanding for their experimentation with form, the adventurous playing of a young band led by the even more adventurous playing of a creatively restless leader. The Davis - Evans set was assiduously reassembled by producers Phil Schaap and Bob Belden.The music was remixed and mastered in 20 bit digital stereo which allows us to hear the many intricate details of this fascinating pairing of talents. It also resulted in the first true stereo version of Miles Ahead. Gil Evans once referred to Miles Davis as "that great singer of songs." He was indeed that on the profoundest and most operatic level. Gil Evans was probably jazz' most inspired and profound orchestrator. He used combinations of woodwinds, brass and percussion in ways that echoed the classics of Debussy, Ravel and so many of the great composer/orchestrators in the history of music. It was the combination of these two innovative musicians that resulted in these great masterpieces now known as: Miles Daves - The Complete Studio Recordings (Columbia Legacy 2 - 67397).

So why is it so important for us to examine in depth music that happened over thirty five years ago? For the same reason that it is important to discuss and examine great music that was made two or three or four hundred years ago. It seems that in this day and age of "young lions", Wynton Marsalis lecturing us on the importance of this and that, re creation upon re-creation of the classic jazz and standard repertoire that there haven't been any widely acknowledged masterpieces of music on this scale. The young musicians of today are extremely competent and advanced at an early age but it's very difficult, at best, to discern any real passion, storytelling, drama, and content among them. This is actually not entirely their fault. It's been brought to their attention early on that if they get their playing together and just "sound good" that they may be able to have a "career" playing jazz. Coming of age in the 'fifties and 'sixties meant that the musicians that we looked up to were so awe inspiring that to dare believe that one could play like that was to invite a deep depression. To make a "living" playing jazz was an even more daunting thought. Let's just say that the first thing we learned was true humility. We attempted to learn much of this music on the bandstand and from recordings as it wasn't really available in classrooms. Many of us worked all kinds of jobs as professional musicians from an early age. This kind of background was invaluable to building an attitude of deep respect for a music that was there to enable us to communicate our feelings. It was indeed a privilege to play jazz and, to make money at it.....unbelievable. It still is that way. It seemed that there was a true apprenticeship system in place where musicians could "pay dues" by working with an established (or not so established) musical great and play every night. Eventually that greatness would "rub off " and players could themselves become great musical leaders. It is this pursuit of greatness that I find missing in many present day jazz players. If the goal is simply to "sound good" then damn near everyone who is anyone has achieved that. It's actually not that hard to learn how to do. It's far more difficult to develop something unique, personal and musically powerful. Shouldn't that be the goal of any art form? The problem is that involves risk and risk is dangerous.

Miles Davis has probably changed the face of jazz more than any other musician in it's brief history. It was during this period that his lyrical qualities, particularly on the flugelhorn, were blooming and made a strong connection with his growing legion of fans. However, at that time, many trumpet players weren't among them. I have vivid memories of Davis being put down for not living up to the macho hystrionics of the more brash and brassy players of that era. But that was the whole point. Gil Evans said that Miles changed the sound of the trumpet...........forever! Few musicians in any genre accomplished that. Gil Evans, it could be said, changed the sound of the jazz orchestra forever. Certainly his earlier work with Davis and Claude Thornhill proved that. But his accomplishments with Davis are utterly compelling and it's a sad fact that this level of performance was never duplicated after they went their separate ways. Gil had a way of creating some of the most detailed orchestrations. They were clearly a challenge to the musicians and to Davis as well. In listening to the rehearsal outakes, it's extremely enlightening to hear the lengths to which he would go to get the orchestra to come up with the results that he desired. He pushed Davis, too. He put him in a position of having to give his all, to bare his very soul. He and Davis had a melodic concept in common that was complimentary in the most revealing ways. Evans would create thick labryniths of sound for Davis to flow through and then suddenly come up with orchestrated lines which would echo Davis' own lyricism. There are sections where it is difficult to tell where one's thoughts stopped and the other picked up. Not only Davis' lines were echoed but there were links to Charlie Parker as well. Evans used to go and listen to Davis play with Parker. In his scores, he often bursts out with an absolutely screaming bebop line that is simply startling in it's boldness. If genius is defined by the painstaking attention to detail then Gil Evans was a genius many times over. Davis' genius was in making notes of absolute purity combined with the depth of the greatest melodic composers. The pairing of these two innovators resulted in music that was greater than the sum of it's parts.

The idea of "concept" albums is certainly not a new one. These recordings were all based on the concept of featuring Miles Davis as the only soloist and for Gil Evans to highlight Miles' voice through his unique arranging capabilities much as the partnership between Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle. On Miles Ahead we have an album whose concept matches the level of the material and musicianship. Producer George Avakian had already decided on the title. His one requirement was that there be a song called Miles Ahead which Davis was able to supply. Porgy and Bess was made in the era when that musical was extremely "hot" in show business terms. Nina Simone had a huge hit with I loves You Porgy and there were many cover versions and complete renditions of the score. But it was Miles and Gil who brought out the true jazz nature of Gershwin's fabulous score. This may be the one best remembered. Sketches of Spain was something that Miles and Gil came up with after Miles had been exposed to the original recording of Concierto De Arunjuez, a jazz version of European Classical music. Quiet Nights was ostensibly made to cash in on the bossa nova craze. Much of the mystery surrounding Miles Ahead is unlocked here by the veteran discographer, DJ and general jazz hound Phil Schaap. There have been a number of reissues by CBS that included differing takes, pseudo-stereo, the original mono and so forth. The music on Miles Ahead always sounded like they recorded each side in one long take as there are many direct segues and and the pieces flow beautifully together. The fact is that the album is heavily edited, was originally recorded to two track stereo and then dubbed in mono to a three track machine over which Miles actually overdubbed on four of the pieces. Originally this was all mixed to the third track in mono. Through the digital technology of today we are, for the first time able to hear this masterpiece in true stereo. This is important because it opens the tonal palette that Gil and Miles created. The original couldn't have been more memorable due the musical substance so it's an extra treat to be able to hear it this well. This recording was a major breakthrough on a number of levels. Miles was interested in creating a wide array of moods. His way with a melody would encompass these varying moods which gave Gil Evans much to frame. Most jazz recordings were of the head-solos-head variety and no one had approached this level of programming with the exception of Duke Ellington. Also, Miles participation in the Gunther Schuller recording Music For Brass preceeded these sessions and was actually his first project for Columbia. Miles' playing on the date is absolutely spectacular. He was splitting his solos between trumpet and the softer toned flugelhorn but it is often difficult to tell the difference as he had developed that burnished sound so fully on the trumpet that he abandoned the flugelhorn by the early 'sixties. Gil also wrote for individual players much as Duke had done. Lee Konitz beautiful alto sound is an important component. Frank Rehak and Jimmy Cleveland on trombones, the lead trumpets of Ernie Royal, Bernie Glow and Luis Mucci were constants in the Evans ensembles. The reeds of Romeo Penque, Danny Bank and Sid Cooper, Willie Ruff on french horn and Bill Barber on tuba added distinction and a fine individuality to the orchestrations. In many ways the voices of these players were as significant as that of Miles. The compositions that comprise Miles Ahead are no mere collection of songs. Springsville by trumpeter Johnny Carisi (also on the date), The Maids of Cadiz, Dave Brubeck's The Duke, Gershwin's My Ship, Miles Ahead, Blues For Pablo by Gil Evans and Ahmad Jamal's New Rhumba were all first rate compositions that had been thoroughly conceived into a whole by Evans and Davis. The Medley of the Meaning of the Blues, J.J. Johnson's unbelievably beautiful Lament and the playful I Don't Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone But You) complete the oddesey that became Miles Ahead. It was the incredible, near telepathic interaction between the orchestra and Davis that created such beautiful continuity. A concept is no better than it's execution and the execution here was incredible. The dynamics that we can now hear so well make for high drama. Miles' soulful playing cuts through Gil's cosmic arranging for the orchestra, at once leading, darting in and out and dancing gracefully within the music. If they had never recorded anything else, this one masterpiece would have had it's place in the history of jazz but there was much more to come.

Gershwin's opera, Porgy and Bess was a perfect followup for Miles and Gil. Produced by Avakian's former assistant Cal Lampley, there is far less in the way of extra material as he didn't keep rehearsal takes, overdubs and the like. But the music is certainly no less great bringing forth the blues feeling and uniquely American flavor of the Gershwin opera. The way Gil used the orchestra to "comp" behind Miles was so effective that no pianist was used on these dates.

The highly dramatic opening of the Buzzard Song opens with high brass and a unique bass and tuba interlude with swinging solos from Miles. Bess You Is My Woman is given reverential treatment combining Miles' highly lyrical and personal statement with rapturous flutes and brass and some direct quotes from Bird. The difficult figures of the Gil Evans original Gone which featured the very accurate drumming of Philly Joe Jones gives way to a minor blues solo along with bassist Paul Chambers and Jones. Jones and Chambers were the long time rhythm team in Miles' famous quintet along with John Coltrane and Red Garland and their sensitivity to Miles' groove is a true plus. It is fascinating to hear the outtakes of this one as the final master contains some mistakes by the ensemble but the development to get there was intense. The Gershwin spiritual Gone, Gone, Gone features Miles' plaintive cry of the street peddler. It's a beautifully orchestrated, soulful rendition of the theme Gil used in Gone. Of all the tunes Gershwin ever wrote, Summertime could have been written specifically for Miles Davis. Evans' grandiose and classic intro is spiced by the rubato cries of Davis. Miles in a harmon mute is more intensely expressive than any instrument I can think of. Combined with Evans perfect combination of flutes and french horns playing that haunting figure, this becomes pure "sound ecstasy". The modal groove predates Kind of Blue and is a predicator of things to come. The lovely Bess, Oh Where's My Bess is a perfect respite and seems to suspend time with it's lovely interludes. Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus) starts out with a solemn rubato opening (aria) and develops into a strong dirge like piece with Miles and Gil working the intensity to a strong climax. Fisherman, Strawberry and Devil Crab is another serene and peaceful exposition. It seems that Gershwin consciously applied the deliberate use of major and minor keys to great effect which was not lost on Miles and Gil. When the piece is in major it is heavily major and bright sounding. When using the minor it is dark and brooding. Miles really pours it on with that cry and those purposely smeared notes. My Man's Gone Now is slow and minor and bluesy. This piece shows the strength that Miles had to carry through. It is not so much difficult as demanding. The development here is slow and deliberate. You can hear that Miles' use of long tones took much diligent practice and that his chops were very strong, indeed. The classic It Ain't Necessarily So opens with Miles playing the verse against a lush Evans background suddenly launching into THAT groove again with Philly Joe clicking away on "four." When Miles goes into the melody it is as welcome as an old friend coming by to visit. Gil writes the perfect fills and backgrounds. It is a seamless performance and highly moving. Here Comes De Honey Man is another almost Zen like arrangement that offers visuals of an open sky and a beautiful day. The well known I Loves You Porgy is given true operatic treatment and also foreshadows some of what was to come on Kind of Blue. The closing pieceThere's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York is a joyful leap into a famous journey that Miles and many others have taken, metaphorically speaking.

Porgy and Bess was one of Miles' most popular recordings. There are some obvious reasons. The music was extremely well known and many other popular cover versions had been recorded. But Miles' and Gil's version was clearly an artistic triumph. It was not a particularly commercial effort in the superficial sense of the concept. Like other great operas, it was popular because it spoke to the soul. It was Miles' great expressive abilities combined with Evans' resourceful orchestrations that made this the strong statement it was. Davis used many techniques to add expressive elements. They can be easily described but one needs to listen closely to get the full effect. These were not simply "devices" but full fledged connections to his very real feeling for the music, his instrument(s) and the environment in which he found himself. It is not entirely clear when he was playing open trumpet or the softer toned flugelhorn. His trumpet tone had taken on a highly luminescent quality which easily mirrored his sound on the flugelhorn. His use of the harmon mute had become one of his trademarks. That sound was actually pioneered by Harry "Sweets" Edison and Dizzy Gillespie but Miles had added an intensity to it that was compelling. He would approach the trumpet like a different instrument when using the harmon, more like a woodwind. He was capable of using many different and varied timbres, sometimes within the same phrase. This added a great deal of variety to his sound(s). His use of smears, broken notes, straight tones, blue notes, controlled vibrato and the ability to turn what might be perceived as a mistake into a work of beauty added mightily to a highly varied palette. This is what is known as tonal imagination. The creative use of sound in all aspects of singing the song. It makes the trumpet and flugelhorn become more human and larger than life. Gil Evans had a complete and total understanding of how Miles' approach should be framed, supported and orchestrated. They would feed off of each other building works that were incredible in their expressiveness and emotional content yet never out of control.

This all came together once again in their collaboration Sketches of Spain.. This was somewhat of a rarity, a jazz version of a European classical work, Concierto De Aranjuez, that was not a mere rewrite or an adaptation. Evans' scoring was as deep and profound as the original. Gil did a lot of researching of Spanish and South American music forms to come up with the material for this seminal recording. Miles was first introduced to the original recording of the adagio movement in Los Angeles in 1959 and then brought it to the attention of Evans. Miles was fascinated by the deep and dramatic melodicism of the piece which originally featured acoustic guitar. Their version is sixteen minutes long and Miles ability to sustain interest is staggering. The orchestration relies heavily on the original but with a twist that only Gil Evans could pull off. It is, once again, the expressive abilities of both Miles and Gil that make this so special. Evans could pull more subtlety and emotion from an orchestra than anyone short of Leonard Bernstein. One can hear in the rehearsal takes that he would strongly push the orchestra to go beyond any kind of pedestrian performance. You can hear this same determination in Miles' playing to match that level of intensity. He does so by not simply overblowing the horn or resorting to merely technical exercises. As in boxing, timing is everything. He knows exactly where and how to enter and when to put the pots on and when to back off. Of course, as previously mentioned, this wasn't always a spontaneous happening. These recordings were meticulously planned out and Miles knew and acknowledged his own limitations. When necessary, he overdubbed parts and when appropriate, editing was used to make things work smoothly. So there was a real team effort going on and egos were checked at the door.

The other pieces on Sketches of Spain continued the flavor of the Concierto. Will of The Wisp, Saeta, Solea and Song of Our Country all carried the Spanish flavor and came together to bring an aural history of another world that had little to do with bebop but a lot to do with high art and human culture. There are many high points on this wonderful recording. It represents the appeal of classical music of many eras and is a moving tribute to the European culture that spawned it. Evans' remarkable use of flutes, harp, brass and percussion makes for an irresistible combination. He uses drone figures to give Miles a framework for his uncanny artistry as an improviser. Once again, they spur each other on to new heights of controlled passion and musical intensity. The dramatic use of brass and percussion on Saeta brings images of the Spanish Civil War and a Good Friday street procession. Miles transports us to the bull ring with his matador like stance. If imagination were money, these guys would have been millionaires many times over. Evans' use of controlled dissonance is brilliant and provocative. Miles' cry is so strong that it clearly emulates the human voice. Miles is quoted as saying "Saeta was the hardest thing for me to do on Sketches of Spain : to play parts on the trumpet where someone was suppose to be singing... Because you've got all those Arabic scales up in there, black African scales that you can hear. And they modulate and bend and twist and snake and move around. It's like being in Morocco." I find his work on Solea even mora dramatic and compelling. He plays a long solo on the vamp with percussion by Jimmy Cobb and Elvin Jones that drives the piece beautifully. The Gil Evans composition Song of Our Country was from the same sessions but not released until 1981. It is a bit different in flavor from the other pieces on Sketches of Spain but no less effective.

The last recording included here is the partially completed Quiet Nights. When originally released, it received a lukewarm reception due to the fact that it seemed rather incomplete with a playing time of around thirty-five minutes. Many of the tracks were cut short or heavily edited. It was also supposed to fulfill the industries need for yet another Bossa Nova "hit." Neither Miles nor Gil were particularly happy with the album. So it was considered something of a failure particularly in light of the phenomenal artistic and commercial successes of their previous work together. However, hindsight is 20-20, maybe even 20-15. In retrospect there is much to recommend about Quiet Nights. First of all when heavyweights attempt works of the magnitude (not to mention the time and expense) of these projects, risk is a big factor. That is what made their successes so great. They took huge risks. Yet they achieved true greatness. That greatness carries over into the Quiet Nights sessions but less in the execution than in the suggestion of certain ideas and concepts. The attempts at the more exotic sounds of the Bossa Nova could have been developed into something new and different. In this collection there are tracks included that were not present in the original release which adds to the overall satisfaction and content. Three tracks featuring the vocals and compositions of Bob Dorough as well as the tenor of Wayne Shorter. Miles asked Dorough not to play piano and the sound is contiguous with the other pianoless tracks with the orchestra. The arrangements for trumpet, tenor, trombone, bass, drums and bongoes were done by Gil. Blue Xmas, Nothing Like You and the splendid Devil May Care are quintessential small group orchestrations with wonderful performances by Miles, Shorter and Dorough. This was a full two years before Wayne Shorter joined the Miles Davis quintet of Plugged Nickel Fame. The Time of the Barracudas was composed as music for a play and does not feature much improvisation but is thematically intriguing, nevertheless. This version includes Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Ron Carter. It was later recorded by Gil featuring Wayne Shorter. Again, it points the way to what could have been if more work had gone into the concept. It is divided into several sections and works as a kind of suite. One of the features of their previous collaborations was that great attention was given to even the finest detail, including having Miles overdub solos where his originals weren't quite up to the very high standard that had been set. Also, Evans had been allowed to do enough takes until he got what he wanted out of the orchestra. Falling Water is also included here which was the final collaboration between Evans and Davis. It included the usual array of woodwinds and brass plus harp, Hawaiian and electric guitars, mandolin and Marimba. It is a dark and moody piece. It also contains some fascinating directions that might have bore fruit had they been given more of an opportunity to develop.

The convergence of true giants does not always produce great music. But in the case of Miles Davis and Gil Evans it certainly did just that. It took place at a time when CBS had the people that could follow through and understand the artistic vision of artists that were in the prime of there careers. It starts with an idea or concept but the execution must be equal to the idea. Every detail must be followed through upon or failure becomes a distinct possibility. Not everyone is capable of this artistic level of courage including most current record companies. If the artists are not encouraged to take risks, how can greatness ever be achieved? There are no sure things in life or art. Recordings such as these were artist driven. Not every artist is merely self indulgent and if the concepts are only being dreamed up by A&R people with the idea of profits in mind, we will continue to see mediocrity being passed off as greatness. I hope this will change soon. Jazz is an art form that must strive for greatness on all levels. It deserves more.

Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus) starts out with a solemn rubato opening (aria) and develops into a strong dirge like piece with Miles and Gil working the intensity to a strong climax. Fisherman, Strawberry and Devil Crab is another serene and peaceful exposition. It seems that Gershwin consciously applied the deliberate use of major and minor keys to great effect which was not lost on Miles and Gil. When the piece is in major it is heavily major and bright sounding. When using the minor it is dark and brooding. Miles really pours it on with that cry and those purposely smeared notes. My Man's Gone Now is slow and minor and bluesy. This piece shows the strength that Miles had to carry through. It is not so much difficult as demanding. The development here is slow and deliberate. You can hear that Miles' use of long tones took much diligent practice and that his chops were very strong, indeed. The classic It Ain't Necessarily So opens with Miles playing the verse against a lush Evans background suddenly launching into THAT groove again with Philly Joe clicking away on "four." When Miles goes into the melody it is as welcome as an old friend coming by to visit. Gil writes the perfect fills and backgrounds. It is a seamless performance and highly moving. Here Comes De Honey Man is another almost Zen like arrangement that offers visuals of an open sky and a beautiful day. The well known I Loves You Porgy is given true operatic treatment and also foreshadows some of what was to come on Kind of Blue. The closing pieceThere's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York is a joyful leap into a famous journey that Miles and many others have taken, metaphorically speaking.

Porgy and Bess was one of Miles' most popular recordings. There are some obvious reasons. The music was extremely well known and many other popular cover versions had been recorded. But Miles' and Gil's version was clearly an artistic triumph. It was not a particularly commercial effort in the superficial sense of the concept. Like other great operas, it was popular because it spoke to the soul. It was Miles' great expressive abilities combined with Evans' resourceful orchestrations that made this the strong statement it was. Davis used many techniques to add expressive elements. They can be easily described but one needs to listen closely to get the full effect. These were not simply "devices" but full fledged connections to his very real feeling for the music, his instrument(s) and the environment in which he found himself. It is not entirely clear when he was playing open trumpet or the softer toned flugelhorn. His trumpet tone had taken on a highly luminescent quality which easily mirrored his sound on the flugelhorn. His use of the harmon mute had become one of his trademarks. That sound was actually pioneered by Harry "Sweets" Edison and Dizzy Gillespie but Miles had added an intensity to it that was compelling. He would approach the trumpet like a different instrument when using the harmon, more like a woodwind. He was capable of using many different and varied timbres, sometimes within the same phrase. This added a great deal of variety to his sound(s). His use of smears, broken notes, straight tones, blue notes, controlled vibrato and the ability to turn what might be perceived as a mistake into a work of beauty added mightily to a highly varied palette. This is what is known as tonal imagination. The creative use of sound in all aspects of singing the song. It makes the trumpet and flugelhorn become more human and larger than life. Gil Evans had a complete and total understanding of how Miles' approach should be framed, supported and orchestrated. They would feed off of each other building works that were incredible in their expressiveness and emotional content yet never out of control.

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