French Version http://humeursurmusiquemoderne.blogspot.com/2011/04/miles-davis-miles-ahead-ou-comment.html
Soon after the release of Birth of Cool, and for his second opus under Columbia Records, Miles and his new friend Gil Evans meet again in what is for me a master piece of modern music and probably one of the best record of the boxer/trumpeter. Here, we leave the biting and aggressive Miles aside to discover his bugle sound, impeccable and almost melancholic. I say “almost” since it’s without counting on Davis’ kindness of heart who, surprised to find on the original cover of the record, the picture of a young white woman on a boat, a “white bitch” to be precise and quote him, quickly had it changed by a picture of him.
The fact that Miles is here playing the bugle and not the trumpet is not the only singularity of this Miles Ahead. Indeed, not only is he the only soloist of the album but our good friend is also supported by an unusual orchestra for that kind of recording since it counts not less than 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 horns, one tuba, one saxophone and so on. Anyway, here, it is not about doing things half-measure. It sets the tone…
The record makes a fast start with this “Springsville” worthy of the greatest films noir. That shrill theme will come and haunt us all along the album. The track ends on a tense cord which is resolved straight away on the dull ballad that follows, “The Maids Of Cadiz”. The almost stifling atmosphere, symbolized here by Miles himself and his bugle, takes our breath away, like the calm after the storm. Little by little, the fog disbands, the atmosphere becomes lighter and harmonies more major. The runaway started right away by the decadent “Springsville” seems to terminate here at the Spanish maids’. However, everything restarts in the end with these few double bass notes announcing the “Duke”’s arrival. We then expect a rough and frightening character with this tense upcoming chord that initiate the track, but the theme surprises us straight away. It is still led by the double bass which respond and mixes to the brass. The “Duke” sneaks all along the track like a cheetah, and starts talking through the bugle, on a rolling gait still supported by the double bass line. The orchestra seems to be willing to shout and confront the “Duke” all along the track, provocation which this one answers invariably with the same cool and descending theme.
We then go on board of “My Ship” which slowly and gently takes off towards unknown skies. We are languidly swayed by the regular waves coming to break tenderly against the ship’s sides. We are slowly led to destination… Horns support the whole track and we are cleverly swung by the diverse shades before finally catching sight of the harbor. The repetition of the initial theme announces us the arrival of the majestic “Miles Ahead”, and there… and there my dear friends, we are at Heaven’s door: tickled by soft clouds tainted by a soothing sunset light. We are in good's hands, supported by an impeccable orchestra, we are being guided by the artist who just makes it enough, as usual, and that ends a first act during which we barely had the time to think about anything else but the unstoppable flow which takes us in some strange unknown waters.
Side B begins by bringing us back in the clouds. The descent is started by the majestic “Blues For Pablo”. A smooth atmosphere, even careless captivates and surprises us sometimes with some biting notes well placed. The bass line and the delicate rhythmic changes drive us along this track as good as the previous ones. A permanent struggle seems to take place here between the bass, the calm drums and the aggressive brass which intervene here and there until the final atmosphere change and the return of the powerful and serious theme which slowly let place to the surprising shouts and colors of “New Rhumba”. We are here gently rocked by a soft sea breeze. The track is led almost exclusively by Miles. He’s here more dominant than during the rest of the track and makes us dance quietly.
The following track, “The Meaning of the Blues”, meaningful title, is a slow lament, full of melancholy and heaviness just like the whole set of this album. However, we never fall in the pathos. We remain dignified thanks to a few waves of major arrangements that come lighten the whole and that create this surprising urban atmosphere giving us the feeling of wandering in the streets and seeing life following its way without being able to do anything, to assist at something big and yet usual.
The album ends almost up in the air with “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone But You)”. The playful and rhythmic track discolors from the rest of the album. It is yet marked with numerous hard but crucial brass interventions just as in the previous titles, and it’s also built around a bass line and regular rhythmic sprinkled by almost aggressive setback to the tempo of the orchestra to finish on an extreme tension barely resolved.
The idea of mixing all the tracks in a way they follow each other without any break comes from Gil Evans and it’s probably what makes we are caught like that by this album and its almost tangible atmosphere. Miles Ahead is one of the greatest albums that exist, an outstanding musical moment of which few visible live tracks exist, in particular this concert at the Jazz Festival of Montreux in the 80s when Miles accepted to play along, a jazz orchestra behind him led by Quincy Jones for an historical moment. Miles himself exults and even smiles several times, every musicians here on stage fulfilling their dream, we attend in something big, the first and only jazz symphony. The few rich/Swiss lucky enough to be there that day are, to this day, the people of whom I am the most jalous…