Friday, February 27, 2009

Miles Post-KOB, Tony Williams & Sam Rivers

I enjoyed a couple of comments to my last post, from Bass is Life and André. André went to the trouble to include a long passage from "Jazz, the Basics", by Christopher Meeder. I strongly recommend that you read it, for it brings a lot of what Miles was doing in the early sixties into focus. He was trying to "rebuild" a group equal to the one that recorded Kind of Blue. He was also reacting to the challenge presented by Ornette Coleman and the "new thing." I was particularly interested in what is said about Tony Williams.
Williams was a shocking prodigy-- the year before, he made his recording debut with Jackie McLean and was already a driving drummer with an extreme dynamic range and a raging sense of tempo, able to play polyrhythms that seasoned veterans had trouble following.
I confess that I didn't know that Miles briefly picked up Sam Rivers on tenor.
After a brief experiment with Sam Rivers on tenor (here, the contrast was too great, and while Rivers is a fantastically creative player, he sounds more at home in free jazz contexts), Davis hired Wayne Shorter away from Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers to complete the group.
I concurr in the judgment. Rivers was not where Miles was going. Wayne Shorter was, and that made all the difference.

One can only guess what Miles' music would have been like if he had stuck with Rivers. I am guessing that Sam Rivers, like Shorter, was a pretty strong musical personality. But Rivers was strongly committed to the avante garde approach.

To see what Rivers represented, I offer a couple of selections. One is from Tony Williams' recording Life's Time. I picked it up last Christmas, and it is worth a listen. But one should be warned: it is very Page Four. It's coherent, but melody is not the main thing.
Anthony Williams/Tomorrow Afternoon/Life's Time
I like it. Rivers' sax is dominant across the recording. Herbie Hancock plays piano, with Ron Carter, Richard Davis, and Gary Peacock on bass. That's a lot of bass! Bobby Hutcherson shows up on vibes. How to gage the influence of Rivers? Well, listen to a bit of Rivers.
Sam Rivers/Surge/Waves
That's some by God avant garde for you! You can see, I think, the dark star around which Williams was orbiting when he recorded Life's Time. William's recording is better. But both are worth listening to.

For a final contrast, another sample from The Plugged Nickel documents. Miles' second great quintet, with Shorter, Hancock, Carter, and Williams.
Miles Davis/If I Were a Bell/Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965
That's some stuff to chew on.


  1. what kind of polyrhythm does Williams use in "Tomorrow Afternoon"?

  2. Heh. I haven't googled myself in a while. Thanks for the nod to my book. Did you ever get it? Did anyone?

    The theoretical comparison of Rivers and Shorter is very nice, but not entirely necessary... You can hear Rivers with the 2nd quintet rhythm section and Miles on the 1964 Tokyo concert on Columbia. Link here , although I haven't heard the album in about seven centuries and can't really comment about what I think about it anymore.