J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Return Trip: Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

Miles Davis
Kind of Blue
(Columbia ; 1959)

I asked my college piano professor, the inimitable Mark Freundt, "if a person wanted to..get into jazz - where would you suggest they start?" Mark is a remarkable jazz pianist in his own right, so I thought him a natural source to point me in the right direction. I don't now if he felt the type of quandary I would if someone asked me where to start to understand "rock and roll" or "country," but he answered pretty succinctly: Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Uhm and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Maybe Mark was showing a bias - I didn't know it at the time, but both of these legendary albums were released in 1959, which pins them to a pretty particular place in the jazz canon - but it doesn't matter. I went out and bought both. I haven't been the same since.

I don't know what I could write about a record like Kind of Blue. I am in no way an expert on jazz - in fact my ability to describe and make connections utterly fails me when it comes to the genre. I can identify elements of it in other genres, but I just don't have a vocabulary for tackling jazz. So why write about it? I don't know exactly. Why write about anything that moves you, but you don't have the means to say why?

Kind of Blue is considered one of the premiere examples of modal jazz, a style that developed as a way to break free of the traditional structure of jazz which focused on taking a set of chords and improvising within the notes of those chords. Modal jazz, instead, used modal scales as the foundation for pieces, allowing improvisations to take place across an entire scale, rather than just within a set of chords.

As the album title suggests, this is an album about mood as much as anything else. From the exploratory bass and piano introduction of "So What" onward, this is an album about feeling. Is that why I found myself sitting on my porch this evening, the screen pulled down in my storm door, the stereo pouring this album out into the evening, my feet up on the front porch railing, the rain coming down, a collection of Ray Bradbury in my lap and a Tilburg's Dutch Brown Ale on the cement beside me? That was feeling.

Something about this work reaches people, not just because it has enough of a following to have landed it at #66 on VH1's top 100 albums of rock and roll, but in other ways. As I mentioned in last week's Return Trip, Tim Buckley felt it enough to lift the main riff from "All Blues" for his "Strange Feelin'." And how much more flattering do you get than outright theft?

I'm a little disappointed in my ability to quantify just why this record gets to me, but if I were that upset with the fact, I wouldn't have even tackled writing about it. Instead, I'm putting this out there to see how you would describe your relationship with this album. Or, if you've never encountered it, to maybe encourage you to have a similar indescribable moment. Something that will lead to your own front-porch moments, even if you can't harness the words to describe it. Sometimes art is just too good - sometimes you just need to shut up and enjoy.

Rating: A(udiophilic)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Miles Davis - "So What"

Miles Davis - "All Blues"

Purchase or download Kind of Blue from Amazon.

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  • At 9:44 AM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bless you for the Miles Davis consideration. This particular album was a "Jazz 101" for anyone not familiar with the genre. It transcends way beyond typical appreciation but the life style. No other jazz since has captured cool and urban in the same manner and given the recording date, never sounded soooo good 49 years after it was recorded.

    Like all good jazz, there is no "writing", just improvisation and presentation. To have VH1 consider it with its rock albums shows its widespread appeal that still pours into more current music (Steely Dan, A Tribe Called Quest, Etc...). As with all Miles Davis' recordings, the album expresses the power of suggestion.

    Along with Mingus and Davis, consider Ornette Coleman's "The Shape of Jazz to Come", Theloneous Monk's "Monk's Dream" and two from High Point's own John Coltrane "A Love Supreme" and "Giant Steps".


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