Thursday, May 8, 2008

Jazz Library 4: The Second Great Miles Davis Quintet

I have been roughly describing how I began collecting jazz discs. This method was no great feat of genius on my part, but I wish that I had figured it out a lot earlier. I began with a core of discs that I really liked, and that were considered classics (the 1956 Miles Davis discs: Cookin', Workin', Relaxin', and Steamin'). I already had some Miles Davis and John Coltrane discs, so I hunted up some work by the rhythm section at about the same time: Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. That is what we might call "lateral crawling."

Lately I have adding Miles Davis discs to my collection, to fill out the periods of his work that I am interested in. This of course means skipping around in time, which I will call "linear crawling." I posted earlier about two treatments of "My Funny Valentine," in 1956 and 1964.

In September of 1964 Wayne Shorter joined Miles in Berlin, and the second great quintet was together. This arrangement, two horns and a rhythm section, was the classic hard bop format. Shorter is my personal favorite jazzman. His playing on the tenor sax has not the astounding speed of Coltrane, nor for the most part did he experiment as widely. For both those reasons, he has never earned the fame he deserves. And he richly deserves it, for he possessed one of the most beautiful musical minds in the classic hard bop period. He was especially good at coming up with simple but gorgeous elements of melody that the band could build on. He also had a deeply spooky streak in almost all his compositions. It is no wonder that Miles found him supremely useful.

With Herbie Hancock on piano, you now had three authentic geniuses on the quintet. Ron Carter filled out the group on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. Here is a sample from one of the Quintet's discs, the best in my opinion: ESP.

Miles Davis/ESP/Iris

The tune is Iris, a Shorter composition recorded at the Columbia Studios in 1965. Shorter begins by laying out the melody, with a sweet and smoky texture. Miles then takes it apart, sharpening all the angles. Shorter replies with his second solo, and then Hancock comes in. Each solo is a little more subtle than the last. Finally Shorter comes back in to restore the original, more richly adorned now.

If you like this piece, do us all a favor and buy the disc. All of it is good.


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