Monday, February 27, 2006

Miles Davis - The Cellar Door Sessions

I've never been a huge fan of Miles' electric period. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike Miles output from Bitches Brew forward, it's just that it's not the sort of thing that I often get the urge to listen to. I'm not a big fusion fan to be honest, and it's not really about the electronics or rock rhythms, it's that the often dense texture of sound doesn't ever allow the music, or the listener, a chance to breath. Acoustic jazz can be like that as well, but it's easier to fall into that trap with the electric instruments, guitar heavy front lines, and more complex studio production values.

Which is why the new Cellar Door sessions is like a breath of fresh air. Most of the six disc set features Keith Jarrett (player Fender Rhodes and Fender Electric organ), Jack DeJohnette, Gary Bartz, bassist Michael Henderson, and Airto. John McLaughlin is featured on the last two discs. Some of the material with McLaughlin appeared on the Live Evil release, but most has sat unheard in the vaults for decades. Now I haven't listened to the whole set yet, but what has really struck me thus far, especially on the tracks without McLaughlin, is how varied the textures are, and even on the tracks where the band is playing at 100 percent intensity, the music doesn't get muddy (and not just sonically). Perhaps it's because of the live setting, perhaps it's the lack of McLaughlin or another similar voice on most of the material, but I think it mainly has to do with Keith Jarrett. Jarrett is a singular voice in jazz, and even on these recordings, playing instruments he apparently didn't care too much for, his work stands out, and takes the band places you don't expect, and rarely hear such fusion bands go. His sound and conception defines these recordings, just as one could say Wayne Shorter's did the music of Miles' great second quintet. I didn't say Herbie Hancock, because for as great and innovative as Herbie was with Miles, Wayne's dramatic artistic conception is the closest thing I can think of when comparing how utterly unique Keith sounds in this context. If Wayne played the keyboards, he might sound something like Keith does on these recordings.

One other thought, these vintage fusion recordings, finally released after 36 years still sound fresher than the many "contemporary" attempts at similar sounds by today's jazz artists. People are still wrestling with the legacy of Miles. They spent the 80's and most of the 90's dealing with Miles' music from 1955-1965. Now they're trying to deal with Miles from 1970 or so. I wonder how long it will last this time.


Blogger Greg Kline said...

Good rundown Joe. I debated a long time before buying this, although I am a fan of Miles' electric music (as well as his other music). It's pricey, but I haven't been sorry I bought it. In fact, when I listened to the first disk, I thought that while I wouldn't have been happy if I'd paid $75 for it alone, I wouldn't have been all that upset either.

You're right about it not sounding dated either, like, say, Horace Silver's "United States of Mind," which is definitely a period piece, and which I enjoy anyway.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Mwanji Ezana said...

"it's that the often dense texture of sound doesn't ever allow the music, or the listener, a chance to breath."

This is far from the rule, in Miles's case. Albums like "Big Fun" and "Get Up With It," to say nothing of "In A Silent Way," are full of tracks that are incredibly spacious and restful.

"Cellar Door" is awesome, and I agree with your assessment of Jarrett's role, although I find it hard to give more credit to either Miles, Jarrett, Henderson or DeJohnette. They're all incredibly fused on these sets.

6:23 AM  

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