A Miles Davis primer.

A few years ago, I made an annotated mix CD for a friend who was unfamiliar with the work of Miles Davis. For some reason, I’ve decided to make a Spotify playlist based on that CD and post my original notes for his mix. 

My notes aren’t (obviously) intended to be exhaustive, just a few observations about some of the songs. This was never intended to be an all-time greatest hits playlist, as his label has already released several best-of collections. Additionally, the songs are not presented in chronological or preferential order. I merely aimed to create a listenable track order with some of my favorite tunes.

I hope this helps as you discover the music of Miles Davis.

1 — “Joshua”
To me, “Joshua” is Miles’ big pop song from the 60’s: catchy, succinct and upbeat. And it starts with finger-snaps!

2 — “Eighty-One”
I remember finding E.S.P. for cheap in college. I loved the album from the start, but I wondered why it seemed no one talked about it. (Maybe I just don’t talk to the right people.) To me, “Eighty-One” is a perfect song. It’s complex, swinging and catchy. Tony Williams is the star of the song. His ride playing gives it so much character; it instantly drew me in.

3 — “So What”
Everybody in the world owns a copy of Kind of Blue, right? Enough ink has been spilled about that record, but I could still write a book about Coltrane’s solo in “So What.”

I don’t know anything about jazz piano, but I love Bill Evans. In fact, one of my favorite records of all time is his album, Conversations with Myself. Even farther down the rabbit trail, his albums with Tony Bennett in the early 70’s are essential listening.

4 — “Seven Steps to Heaven”
I love it when songs start on the bass!

Seven Steps to Heaven marks the beginning of Miles’ famed second great quartet. While it’s tempting to listen to the album and think that the band hit the ground running with clarity and cohesion, researching the recording process proves otherwise.

He began with roughly the same band that recorded Kind of Blue, but jettisoned some players and added super-young guys like Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams. (To be fair, ex-band members consistently remarked that Miles never fired anyone; everyone left when it was his time.) Miles then re-recorded several cuts with his new band. I feel this, the title cut, is the strongest of the bunch and a clear indication where the band would go on the next few records.

5 — “Black Comedy”
I haven’t changed much since I was young and pre-judged albums by their cover art. When I saw Miles in the Sky in a documentary on 60’s music, I knew I must own the album. With its bright, psychedelic design, it looked more like a Jimi Hendrix album than a jazz record. I was intrigued.

When I first listened to it, my head exploded. Apart from big band recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie or Glenn Miller, I had never heard a jazz album. Certainly none by a jazz combo. Half-way in, my head was already a mess, then Tony Williams’ “Black Comedy” blew me away. I didn’t even have to check the credits to know the drummer wrote it. This piece just feels like an amazing seven-minute drum fill.

6 — “Masqualero”
This is such a strange, meandering song. The vibe is certainly cool, but I don’t know if I could follow the tune if it weren’t for the drums. And Tony Williams just nails it on this track. The song wanders around a Spanish/quasi-twentieth century classical piano motif, but the drums explode and launch into orbit.

7 — “Little One”
This is a perfect example of why I love Herbie Hancock’s work in the 60’s. The chord changes are so…lyrical? The changes are so good that the melody just seems to write itself. It’s a commonly-held belief that Wayne Shorter was a better writer than improviser. While this may be pretty accurate, I feel that his work with Hancock on this song is perfection. They just seem to get one another.

8 — “Prince of Darkness”
I bought Sorcerer on a whim. At the time, I only had a few Miles albums, and this didn’t seem to have any notable songs on it. Since it was in the bargain bin at Half Price Books, I took the gamble. “Prince of Darkness” kicks off the record in a huge way. It got me into an album that features (mostly) moody and mid-tempo tunes. I doubt that I, at that point in my musical discovery, would have had the patience to wade through the rest of the record if it hadn’t been for the opener.

While it’s a Wayne Shorter tune (and he is known for elaborate song structures), it is rather straightforward in its construction. It is Ron Carter’s bass line that does it for me. He seems to work against the Tony Williams at times, creating tension that makes the song more interesting.

9 — “Once Upon a Summertime”
While Quiet Nights is clearly not a perfect record (critics and even Miles himself agreed on this), I feel it has its moments. Maybe I’m just a sucker for bossa nova, but I think Gil Evans arrangements might be better suited for Brazilian music than Spanish.

Gil Evans is one of those rare guys with whom I feel a connection, at least musically. He seemed to be as interested in creating soundscapes as he was serving the melody. This was such a rare thing in the 50’s and early 60’s. Remember, this was before Philip Glass, Weather Report or Brian Eno. Evans made Miles’ solos more interesting; he didn’t just write some counterpoint. Whenever I write horn arrangements, I think of Evans and this song in particular.

10 — “Milestones”
I know, I know…this is a standard. I’m sure you’ve played it, but it has to make this mix. I’m in love with the head to this piece. It seems split into two eight-bar sections, and I love how Miles constantly switches his phrasing in the second, legato section. I don’t think he ever repeats himself. It’s amazing. And maybe it’s too much information for you, but I should mention that we were listening to “Milestones” in the hospital when our son was born.

11 — “Circle”
Sixteen years ago, I attended a Robert Deeble concert at a church in Overland Park. My family was crumbling, and I was on the brink of depression. The show was soothing, cathartic, melancholy, quiet and hopeful. It was everything I needed. When I walked in, the sound man was playing a compilation of Miles’ ballads. The first song I heard was “Circle.” That was the first time I heard Miles Davis.

The song just had that perfect sound. In fact, I don’t really know how objective I can be about this. It may be a sub-par tune, but I wouldn’t know it. It just sounds like the sum of my college experiences, both in school and with my family. Longing. That’s what I heard.

12 — “Gone Gone Gone”
If you listen to any song on this mix to understand why I love Miles Davis, this is it. There’s something about his tone and phrasing that shows intentionality and feels like the longing I’ve felt at so many stages in my life.

I’ve already gushed over Gil Evans’ arrangements. While Quiet Nights seemed pastoral, he worked with a similar ensemble to create a bombastic, nearly orchestral sound on Porgy and Bess. This is the exception, a quiet, reflective tune. It’s my favorite on that album and, I feel, a great way to end the mix.

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Comfort food.

Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s my loquacity. But I’ve realized that habitually expressing my opinion is an easy way to pigeonhole myself. So when I’m frequently solicited for music recommendations, I feel pressure to offer mind-blowing suggestions. I feel like I have to live up to some imaginary perception as a tastemaker. Sometimes I just want to discuss songs I enjoy. Not necessarily the ultimate or epic ones. These songs* are my comfort food. When I first heard these songs in college, I knew I was home.

For that reason, I can’t really describe the songs or explain them. To me, they’re great as they are. Maybe they won’t be as revelatory to you as they were to me in college, but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. (For your convenience, click on the links to open the songs in Spotify.)

“Black Velvet” by The Lilac Time

“Walls Come Tumbling Down!” by The Style Council

“Frost and Fire” by Everything But the Girl

“When Love Breaks Down” by Prefab Sprout

*I realized early on that I was probably born in the wrong decade. In most cases, I found myself more interested in influences of the nineties bands I liked than the nineties bands themselves. That love for historical context inevitably drew me to bands like The Smiths, New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and The Bunnymen, etc. Bands that immediately preceded the big nineties alternative/indie rock bands. For the sake of simplicity, I’m not going to discuss those bands right now. (Besides, hasn’t enough digital ink already been spilled on them? I don’t know that I can meaningfully add to that discussion.)

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After everything.

Personalities of its members aside, The Church is my ideal band. In the past 35 or so years, it has matured from jangly post-punk to a mix of psychedelia, ambient and dreampop. To me, the romantic ideal of a two-guitar band is embodied in The Church, as the guitarists refused to adopt the usual lead/rhythm guitarist roles. Both Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper interwove lead riffs and panned them hard-right and left. (Sadly, Wilson-Piper is no longer a member of the band.)

Last weekend, I fell back into After Everything Now This, my favorite album by The Church. The band had started falling into the usual trap of recording covers and endless jams, and After Everything Now This marked a return to songwriting. While it’s not necessarily the band’s best or most historically important record, it was the first album by The Church that I bought on its release day. The riffs (especially on this almost-title cut) bring back that warm feeling of basking in the summer sun in my Ford Aspire and impatiently waiting for the air conditioning to finally get cool.

Guess I could say more, but why don’t you just listen to the song for yourself?

 

 

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Episode 112: Go Easy

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Listening back through this show, I’m reminded how much I love the deep album cut. Maybe it’s my contrary nature that won’t allow me to enjoy the first few songs on a record (the accessible ones clearly aimed at some amount of radio play) or maybe I just like those moody songs that land after the album’s hype and hooks. Or, could it be those really are the best tracks on the album?

Whatever the case, it feels good to be back, blathering about the music I love.

  1. “Maple Trees” by Cascading Slopes (Towards a Quaker View of Synthesizers / Plastiq Musiq / 2013)
  2. “Four Long Years” by Wire (Object 47 / PinkFlag / 2008)
  3. “Sun” by Echo Lake (Era / No Pain in Pop / 2015)
  4. “English Subtitles” by Swervedriver (I Wasn’t Born to Lose You / Cobraside Distribution / 2015)
  5. “It’s Easy” by Robert Pollard (The Crawling Distance / Guided By Voices Inc. / 2009)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #112 (07/01/15)

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Top Ten of 2014

Before I begin with my list of ten favorite albums from 2014, here are a few of the usual caveats.  This is a list of my favorite, most frequently played, records released in 2014. In no way is this an objective list of the year’s best albums. (You won’t find Swans or Scott Walker here. While releasing some of the best albums of this year, or any year, I rarely listened to them in their entirety.) Also, a couple albums were unexpectedly released after I had finished this list. Since their vinyl releases won’t be until next spring, I’m just going to pretend they’re 2015 releases and discuss them next year. (Yes, I’m referring to Luxury, Steve Taylor and D’Angelo.)  And finally, there are some albums I’ve recently purchased that I’m still processing, still trying to get my head around.  (Maybe I’m just being difficult, but I don’t feel like including the Iceage and Protomartyr albums in this list.  Please forgive me, but I’m still trying to figure them out.)

1.  Rising Son / Takuya Kuroda

Rising Son was, by far, the album I listened to the most in 2014. It provided great background music while students worked, and it was excellent for my planning periods. At first, I felt the album was a Xerox of a mid-seventies Roy Ayers or CTI-era Freddie Hubbard record, but then I realized that Kuroda really does bring some strong, memorable hooks.  The drumming also brings it up to date, with Nate Smith playing up to his hip-hop influences and tipping his hat to Questlove on nearly every track.

2.  Hendra / Ben Watt

There’s absolutely nothing new about Ben Watt’s first solo album in 30 years, and that’s the best part. Invoking influences like Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, this could have easily been an exercise in nostalgia, but Watt brings pop hooks and some decent, thoughtful lyrics. The packaging is gorgeous, including a poster for the lyrics. The art is incredible, insulting anyone who’d be content with a download.

3.  Atlas / Real Estate

Believe it or not, I don’t intentionally try to be difficult.   So why have I been so hesitant to admit that I enjoy Real Estate?   I think I’m finally at the point where I’ll admit to liking its last album, but I really, really love Atlas.  It’s one of those rare albums where I imagine the band just walked in, laid down its tracks and left.  (Obviously, bands don’t really do that anymore, but uncluttered arrangements lend themselves to that impression.)

4.  Bécs / Fennesz

Somehow I doubt that Christian Fennesz cares for all the micro-subgenre labels in electronic music.  Sure, he’s influenced by glitch and ambient, but his music feels more alive than that.  Bécs is a great example of how an artist can treat a laptop as an instrument, especially on the tracks “Static Kings” and “Liminality.”  His music allows me space to think, to work and to dream.

5.  Syro / Aphex Twin

As time went on, I felt like I was alone in my love for drukqs, Richard James’ last album as Aphex Twin from 2001.  Sure, it was a bloated double-disc, but I enjoyed all of it: all the weird electronic stuff, the minimalistic piano exercises and experiments with prepared piano.  So obviously I was ecstatic at the promise of a new Aphex Twin record, but I also feared that James might feel pressure to get aggressive and do EDM to be relevant or something. The best part about Syro is that it’s just a continuation of his unique vision to write real songs and make technology groove and breathe. No idea yet where it fits into his canon, but it sure is a great album.

6.  Fortuna / Popstrangers

Apparently nineties indie rock has become the thing to imitate.  And the fact that I’m complaining about that probably means I’m getting old.  Sure, Fortuna sounds like a Deerhunter record, but it feels more cohesive than what Brandon Cox usually delivers.  I’ve been rewarded with how Popstrangers takes its time to develop even the murky songs.  Maybe not the best album of the year, but with many long hours at work, Fortuna just made sense.

7.  Home Everywhere / Medicine

Brad Laner and his band Medicine are like old friends.  Or maybe more like that older brother who schooled me on good music.  (But unlike my real-life stepbrother who introduced me to Dinosaur Jr. and The Cure, Laner hasn’t grown boring with age.)  After nearly two decades apart, the band Medicine reformed in 2013 and released a new album, To the Happy Few, with its trademark mix of psychedelic pop and tape-mangled industrial noise was still in tact.  This year, the band took things a little further, testing listeners’ limits with dense layers and almost too many musical ideas in each verse.  So of course I loved it, especially because it’s on beautiful people vinyl.

8.  You’re Dead / Flying Lotus

Steven Elison has tinkered with jazz on his previous Flying Lotus albums, but You’re Dead finally feels like his first jazz record.  The electronics are still compressed to the point of absurdity, but he uses more live instruments on this album.  Elison’s great success is in creating his most cohesive album.  So much so that it becomes difficult to discern between tracks, at times.  Given the complexity of the arrangements, it’s remarkable how short the album feels.  It’s a mind-trip, but I was quick to start the album over many times this year.

9.  Deep Fantasy / White Lung

Remember when you first listened to “Whirring” by The Joy Formidable and the band ripped off your face for nearly seven minutes straight? That’s kind of the feeling I still get from listening to Deep Fantasy, except that the intensity lasts for the entire album. Heavy, aggressive, melodic and brief.  Just what the doctor ordered.

10.  Into the Lime / The New Mendicants

The New Mendicants feature Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and Joe Pernice from Pernice Brothers, two of my favorite bands. But I’m not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed when I first listened to Into the Lime. I hoped for big power pop, but the record feels a lot more front porch-ish and acoustic. The vocals are upfront and mostly unaffected, Blake’s acquiescence to role as a background vocalist is frustrating and gone are many lush layers I’d come to expect from either artist.  But the songwriting is great, and I just lived in this album for a couple months. Some of my favorite albums are the frustrating ones, and Into the Lime was the difficult album that grew into a favorite this year.

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Discovering Satchidananda.

I played alto and baritone saxophone in jazz bands through high school and into early college but rarely listened to jazz for enjoyment.  Early in college, when I started listening to Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie for fun, I discovered the Red Hot on Impulse compilation from Impulse Records.  Looking back, this should have been an insane leap for me, but it completely made sense at the time.  See, I loved the music of Charlie Peacock, he loved John Coltrane, this CD featured music by both John and Alice Coltrane, and it was in the record stores bargain bin.

Red Hot on Impulse opens with Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda.”  At that formative time in my discovery of music, I had never heard free jazz, I only knew of sleigh bells in Christmas music, and the only context I had for sitar was Indian music (this was before I listened to The Beatles).  The collision of jazz and world music was unlike anything I had ever heard before.

Pharoah Sanders’ solo in “Journey in Satchidananda” is captivating. Quite possibly my favorite tenor sax solo of all time.  Effortlessly bridging bebop, free and out there astral jazz, he weaves together nearly a quarter century of jazz history with cascading arpeggios.  Sanders’ solo is one of longing, searching, yearning.

His restraint and melody are especially uncharacteristic, especially after all his experimenting with John Coltrane’s quartet and sprawling work on his own solo albums.  Although his playing on Don Cherry’s Symphony for the Improvisers was memorable and breathtaking, it’s not especially melodic.

Anyway, I feel the term spiritual is thrown around too freely when describing the music of John or Alice Coltrane.  While they both had spiritual motivations and wanted to convey spiritual lessons, perhaps visceral is a more accurate term in describing much of their music that eludes easy description.  Sanders’ solo isn’t merely an academic exercise; it’s. His solo has to be felt.

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All the Rage: Overdue Appreciation for Elvis Costello’s Criminally Overlooked 1994 Album, Brutal Youth

brutalyouthMy sophomore year of college was a disaster. My parents split, my grades nosedived, I changed majors twice and my great-grandmother (whom we cared for) was hospitalized a few times. Early that school year, my friend Byron gave me a tape of Elvis Costello’s supposedly difficult and mediocre album, Brutal Youth.

I found much for me to connect with in the music, but in retrospect, I can see that I got it a little backwards.  At the time, I was digging deep into the discographies of my Christian rock heroes, Terry Taylor and Randy Stonehill.  As a result, I initially thought Costello sounded like Taylor from an early-nineties Daniel Amos record.  Now, I realize that I got it the other way around; it’s Taylor who occasionally sounded like Costello.  I was also impressed at Costello’s old-timey, pre-rock songs on the album.  On songs like “Favourite Hour,” his wide vibrato reminded me of my grandfather’s own canyon-wide vibrato.  Basically, I hadn’t heard much like Costello’s music and attempted to fit what little I knew of his work into my small, but quickly-burgeoning, schema of musical awareness.

So anyway.  Lyrics are rarely the first thing to pull me into a song, but I felt a connection to Costello through his humor.  I still chuckle at the chorus of “London’s Brilliant Parade” when he sings, “Just look at me, I’m having the time of my life/ Or something quite like it.”  While the record may not have been an ideal introduction to his music, the lyrics are certainly indicative of Costello’s playfulness with dysfunction.  He doesn’t always portray himself as the good guy, and he treats experience with jest.  “I’m just about glad that I knew you once and it was more than a passing acquaintance,” he sings.  Then he adds, “I’m just about glad that it was a memory that doesn’t need constant maintenance.”  On (probably) my favorite song, “This is Hell,” Costello describes hell as the opposite of all good things.  In the final verse, he sings, “‘My Favorite Things’ are playing again and again/ But it’s by Julie Andrews and not by John Coltrane.”  I think his writing is probably an acquired taste for most, but it immediately connected with me.

Between my commutes to UMKC and the hospital to see my great-grandmother, I spent a lot of time in the car that year.  I remember one month in which it seemed like Brutal Youth was playing non-stop.  There are so many reasons for this that don’t make sense with digital music.  Sometimes only certain tapes would sound okay on my crappy car stereo, and sometimes I was so busy that I didn’t have time to grab another tape before I left the house.  But more often than not, Brutal Youth just felt right, and I know that I listened to the tape 100 times in one month alone.

When I started a band fifteen years ago, I chose to name it after one of the quirkier songs on the record, “My Science Fiction Twin.”  Not only does the name obviously identify me as an Elvis Costello fan, but it also reminds me of that formative time in my life.  I made big decisions, lost relatives and formed new relationships.  Some of whom remain good friends with me to this day.

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Episode 111: Something Like That

Guided By Voices at The Granada in Lawrence, Kansas (9/28/2012)

Guided By Voices at The Granada in Lawrence, Kansas (9/28/2012)

Sometimes you’ve listened to a band for so long that you forget others may have never heard it.  Sometimes when you dive into a band’s catalog, the plunge is so gradual that you wake up one morning and wonder where this stack of 30+ CDs came from.  Both are true with the work of Robert Pollard, primary songwriter for Guided By Voices.

I don’t remember when I first heard Pollard’s work, but I do remember it was the Guided By Voices album, Bee Thousand.  I was ecstatic to find a band making the kinds of records that my step-brother and I had attempted.  We recorded our tapes in his mom’s basement, so the rough, lo-fi sound of Bee Thousand immediately appealed to me.  There was also something familiar to Pollard’s songs, as well.  Immediately, I felt like this guy had listened to a lot of my favorite records by The Who, (Gabriel-era) Genesis and a band I had just discovered, R.E.M.

Pollard’s work, albeit wildly inconsistent, still seems relevant to me.  These days, I feel like the most punk thing you can do is release music how and when you want.  With labels demanding returns on their increasingly astronomical investments, it’s not unusual to expect a three-year gap between albums for many bands.  As a fan, the wait can be maddening.  Maybe the returns are there, who knows.  That’s why I still like Pollard, who put it best, “If we’re paying for it and no one’s listening to these records anyway, if we’re only making them for ourselves, then I’m going to put exactly what I want on them.”

Enjoy..

  1. “Substitute” by The Who (Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Decca/1971)
  2. “The Great Deceiver” by King Crimson (Starless and Bible Black/Island/1974)
  3. “London Girl” by The Jam (This is the Modern World/Polydor/1977)
  4. “London Girls” by The Vibrators (Pure Mania/Epic/1977)
  5. “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones (True Confessions (Singles = A+B’s)/Rhino/2000)
  6. “Fall on Me” by R.E.M. (Lifes Rich Pageant/I.R.S./1986)
  7. “Echos Myron” by Guided by Voices (Bee Thousand/Scat/1994)
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1415312/111radiofreeraytown.mp3″

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #111 (4/8/14)

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Top Ten Favorites Albums of 2013

Album release gimmicks were the thing in 2013. While I like the idea of making a release more of an event than just a drop date on iTunes, few of those hyped-up records interested me. (The most notable exception being The Next Day.) I like the personal interaction and support my wife and I have given artists this year. I’ve found that commitment to their music through Kickstarter campaigns and concert attendance endear these records to me more than any publicity stunt ever could.

Obviously, I didn’t listen to every record released in 2013, but I tried. Sure, other great albums were released this year, but whatever. People always want me to generate lists, of course these lists are always flawed, people invariably ridicule me for music I admit to enjoying, I hate committing to lists, but whatever, you get the picture. I have once again acquiesced. I love these albums, and so should you.

Here are my ten favorite albums from 2013, in no particular order:

1. Black Hearted Brother – Stars Are Our Home
2. Bowie, David – The Next Day
3. Crocodiles – Crimes of Passion
4. Daniel Amos – Dig Here, Said the Angel
5. Deafheaven – Sunbather
6. Flaming Lips, The – The Terror
7. Holograms – Forever
8. Hopkins, Jon – Immunity
9. Iceage – You’re Nothing
10. Laner, Brad – Nearest Suns
11. Mary Onettes, The – Hit the Waves
12. Medicine – To the Happy Few
13. My Bloody Valentine – mbv
14. Phillips, Sam – Push Any Button
15. Shorter, Wayne – Without a Net
16. Starflyer 59 – IAMACEO
17. True Widow – Circumambulation
18. Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen
19. Witmer, Denison – Denison Witmer
20. Yo La Tengo – Fade

 

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The most important Miles Davis record (for me).

During my last few years in college, I’d occasionally housesit for a professor and his wife. These jobs provided opportunities to escape my stressful home life and for me to catch up on reading and cable television. During one of my stays at their River Market loft, I watched a documentary on sixties’ psychedelia. I don’t remember much about that VH1 show, except a closing montage of classic psychedelic albums. Taking its place among the famous British invasion albums was Miles in the Sky. At that point, I knew nothing about Miles Davis, except that he played trumpet. But the cover was so cool that I knew I needed to locate it right away.

When I found the CD, I was shocked by what I encountered. The drums in stereo sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Perhaps, more precisely, Tony Williams’ cymbal playing was unlike anything I had heard before. At times, it almost sounded like the band had two drummers.

While not my favorite Davis record, it’s certainly the most important for me. It propelled me into his and his bandmates’ catalogs. It also introduced me to long songs; this was at least two years before I discovered progressive rock. Unlike most albums, the surprising thing about Miles in the Sky is that I can listen to it today and have some of the same impressions as when I first played it.

The first track, “Stuff,” was my first encounter with jazz fusion. It was also Miles’ first real foray into fusion, with electric keyboard and bass. Wayne Shorter’s tenor saxophone sounds so distant, so cold and harsh. (Later, I’d learn he was playing through an amp.) Ron Carter’s bass playing on this track still blows my mind. Playing more in the mid-range of the instrument, he often implies the groove instead of explicitly stating it.

“Paraphernalia” was my first dive into the deep pool of Wayne Shorter compositions. Now, it sounds to me like so many of his other great compositions. Back then, however, its floating, esoteric melody just seemed weird. Inviting, but still weird. I believe too much ink has been spilled debating whether he’s a better writer or improviser; this song proves he’s great at both. I think his solo may be as memorable as the head. Of course, it helps that he uses the old trick of restating bits of the melody in his solo, which helps ground his improvisation.

The most swinging cut on the album, “Black Comedy,” inspired me to play drums. I’m sure I’ll never play like Tony Williams, but I sure can pretend. I was immediately taken by his overuse of the high-hat and weird turnarounds. Probably the most accessible (or short) track on the album, this track found its way onto numerous mix tapes in college.

The last song, “Country Son,” is so weird. Without any discernible melody, the master and alternate takes included on the CD sound completely different. The meandering feel of the composition seems emphasized by Davis and Shorter, who sound like they’re wandering around the studio as they play.

All that said, maybe Miles in the Sky sucks and you should check out Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew first. I just feel too close to the record to be objective. Because it was in constant rotation around the time my parents split, it just sounds to me like their divorce. I feel a longing in its grooves and an aching transcendence in its melodies. And that’s why, after amassing most of his catalog, it continues to the most important Miles Davis record for me.

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