Monday, September 8, 2008

Historical horns Nr. 2



Time for number two in my limited series of three Miles Davis tracks..

Next up is Freedom Jazz Dance, recorded in 1966 for the album Miles Smiles, eight years after Milestones. There was a new, young band behind the trumpeter and it was pushing outwards, experimenting with rock rhythms, starting to take melodies to pieces and explore the resulting fragments, and developing an unparalleled rapport.

Bassist Ron Carter, with his immense technique, took over time-keeping duties, letting mercurial, 20 yr. old drummer Tony Williams off the leash to provide the energy and the impulses, drive the soloists and spark mood changes. Pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter were continually spurred on by Miles to "play what they didn't know"; both were innovative composers and each was forging their own career separately with Blue Note records, but Miles' strength was always that he could provoke or inspire his band members to produce their best work with him, regardless of their side projects.
The album "Miles Smiles" is a wonderfully spontaneous, joyous recording, with numerous fluffs, false starts, and fooling around, as evidenced by the numerous ad-libs and humorous remarks left on the recording by producer Teo Macero. It also contains some of the most compelling jazz ever recorded.

Freedom Jazz Dance is a reworking of a funky track written by Eddie Harris, but is given a completely different rhythmic workover to make it a lot more abstract. On top of a rolling drum intro the horns play a complex melodic line, ending in a dramatic crescendo. The tentative beginning, sounding like a false start, with Miles testing the waters before Wayne Shorter joins him, only heightens the decisiveness of the crashing chord Hancock plays at the top of the theme.
During the solos Williams switches to a loose, stuttering, ever changing backbeat, while Ron Carter subtley manipulates the pulse with a breathtaking range of phrases. But neither of them is really keeping time, despite Williams' metronomic hi-hat: instead the focus of the pulse is shifted back and forth almost telepathically between drummer, bass player and pianist. After Davis' spare, punchy solo, Wayne Shorter continues, building more coherent chains, sinously turning the melody on its head, followed by Hancock's deconstruction of the piece into almost oriental themes. Contrasting this to "Milestones" the constraints of the earlier piece become apparent; in "Freedom Jazz Dance" everything is much more intimate, while at the same time much looser than on Milestones.
Listen to Tony Williams' drumming during the horn solos; how towards the end of the solos he starts to "complete" phrases the horns hint at, and opens up space for them by tilting the emphasis of the rhythm. Miles never embraced "free" jazz, but within the apparently tight groove there's a looseness, spontaneity and reciprocity in this piece which has seldom been carried out with such virtuousity.

Freedom Jazz Dance

Otherwise, check out the (also brilliant)
Eddie Harris original

39 comments:

Abahachi said...

Brilliant - and I'm going to print this out and keep it in the cd case, as I think this is far superior to the actual sleeve notes. Don't suppose you feel like doing the rest of the album?

One thing that really interests me here is the concept of freedom. Miles may have rejected the label, but for me this is quintessential free jazz, quite as much as Ornette Coleman or Coletrane's Ascension, above all in the rhythm section. As you say, compared with Milestones or even with the minimalist structures of Kind of Blue this is tremendously loose, fluid and unpredictable, built above all on the spontaneous interaction of the five musicians involved. Time is elastic, rather than kept to a solid 4/4 beat; in place of a clear, predictable chord sequence there are shifting tone centres.

There's a case to be made that Ornette was rather less radical than he first appeared, not least because of his almost conventionally pretty melodies and his harking back to the tradition of New Orleans collective improvisation, and that Miles was far more radical in deconstructing jazz conventions long before he embraced electronics and recording technology.

nilpferd said...

Cheers! I definitely agree with you on this being a form of "free" jazz- the beautiful thing about it is that any sort of constraint, in terms of some kind of 4 beats to the bar rhythm, or a particular melody- doesn't exist; instead, the players manage, in unison, to suggest a fuzzy sort of rhythmic and tonal centre which you can only hear in your head. And yet it is still incredibly "tight", and you can "make sense" of the melodies and rhythms you do hear. As you say, this is extremely radical- because the players are simultaneously stretching time and tone, but somehow retaining a groove and a complex melodic line, compared to the Coleman/Ayler "maelstrom" style free jazz, where you are forced to respond very viscerally as a listener because everything else has been scorched away.

nilpferd said...

BTW, there's quite a nice book called "Miles Smiles and the invention of post-bop" which I've probably ended up partially paraphrasing here- although I did try to rite my own words, like- by Jeremy Yudkin which examines the album in detail. At times a bit too musically technical for me- you'll probably understand much more of that than I did- but it does also contain some interesting analysis of the album and the time leading up to it.

Abahachi said...

Sounds like a book I really must get hold of. Musical theory isn't exactly my strong point, though I did once, after several days' hard thought, feel that I'd got to grips with George Russel's The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation - a feeling which lasted about a week...

steenbeck said...

Nilfperd--I listened to the MIles Davis, and thought it was wonderful. Reading your comments helped a lot to understand it. I know I've mentioned this before, but I had a friend in college studying piano with Kenny Baron, and we would go to hear jazz at a club in Philly. Somehow just sitting with him--he wouldn't even need to say much--just listening while he listened, helped me to understand and appreciate the music more, and I felt the same way listening with you comments. I feel like I could listen to it innumerable times and hear something new each time.

I like what you said about the constraint, too. It reminds me of poetry--there's a tendency to think that modern poetry doesn't have any rules or form at all, but in truth, something about the freedom makes the rules that are observed that much more important--and exciting. There's a sense that you have to be most acutely aware of the rules when you're breaking them.

Then I listened to the Eddie Harris and LOVED it too. I suppose it's more immediately accessible, and wish I was better at talking about music so I could describe which parts I liked.

Then I immediately listened to the Miles Davis again, and, for some reason, after hearing the Eddie Harris, that beginning was THRILLING.

Thanks for the post and the guided tour. Looking forward to the next...

Blimpy said...

I like this a lot, and so does my dad, who is listening too.

seemed like a bit of an abrupt end to it though.

nilpferd said...

Cheers Steenbeck! I also hear something new each time, if I was to try and write my piece now I'd do it totally differently. As it was I fiddled with it for a couple of weeks on and off before posting, in case anyone thinks I just dashed it off the top of my head. I also had a similar music listening friend at University, we also used to listen to jazz largely in silence- he introduced me to "In a silent way" and "On the corner", (which I have to say I didn't "get" until much later on). He used to play me Marsalis bros. recordings- back when Wynton was playing more like Miles does here- and we'd just sit there, then the drummer would do something amazing and Gareth would nod, laugh ruefully, and say, ruminatively- "Tain Watts!!!", or some such aknowledgement. I'd nod and smile, then we'd remain silent for the next hour.
That's incidentally how I first encountered a lot of classic films- the university had a good VCR collection you could view on site, so I saw Murnau, Greenaway, Lang, Schlöndorff for the first time with him. Then we went to get an expresso, and sit in silence thinking about the film.
What you said about going from Harris to Davis rings true with me too- the way the Davis version starts off sort of half heartedly, but suddenly snaps into place and then takes off, whereas the Harris rocks from the word go.
I owe you some thanks too as regards the Eddie Harris, seeing as you kick-started these posts- I thought I'd better check out the original Freedom Jazz Dance, which I'd never heard, and I liked it so much I ordered the album, which I have on at the moment- "The in sound", paired on the CD I ordered with another Harris release "Mean Greens". Very similar to Cannonball Adderley, awesome stuff.

nilpferd said...

Blimpy, its true, the ending is a bit rough. This was a first take, there is some archive recording of Miles "singing" how the theme should be played, then they start straight into it.
It also sounds like they were planning to end after the saxophone solo, they start playing the head again, but Herbie Hancock indicated he wanted to play a solo too, so he butted in and extended the piece. Then the ending sort of peters out after a couple of statements of the theme, where piano, drums and bass keep it going long enough to allow Miles back in if he wants, but he must have signalled, no, end it here. Normally the producer would have edited the ending to make it a bit cleaner, or they would have done another take to pull everything together, but this was one album where you hear the music as it was played for the first time ever, without rehearsal.

nilpferd said...

Hey, Blimpy, btw- shouldn't we do a "blog update" like GU- ie, block comments for half a day, make everything pink and user unfriendly, then get shirty when anyone complains? Just a thought...

Blimpy said...

@nilp

1. very interesting stuff, thanks

2. do you not remember "greengate" the night when The Spill went all green, and there was a revolt!!?

steenbeck said...

Nilpferd, I listened to some more Eddie Harris tracks on the myspace page you linked to, and liked them all. Then I did the geeky thing I do and looked him up here...
http://www.the-breaks.com/search.php?term=eddie+harris&type=0


Some good stuff!!

nilpferd said...

Blimpy- I think I was away that weekend.. do it again, go on... and you have a cool dad- mine would humpf and say "this track isn't really getting anywhere".. although he is into some similar stuff, maybe I'm being a bit unfair there..
Steenbeck- some pretty awesome folks like Eddie.. I'd like to find out which part of In/Flux got sampled.. need to look into Eddie a bit more, I suspect..
By the way, speaking of filling in the details, I should point out that Ron Carter plays bass on both the Miles Davis and the Eddie Harris tracks, and that the E.H. version was recorded just a year earlier.

Blimpy said...

no way am I changing it again!

everyone shouted at me!!

Blimpy said...

here's the proof::

ejaydee said...
Hey, there's a mistake! Rapper's Delight didn't "sample" Good Times, it was the SugarHill Records house band playing on that song.

May 16, 2008 10:19 PM
Blimpy said...
oh man, i feel like i'm driving on the wrong side of the road....

May 16, 2008 11:51 PM
ejaydee said...
I know, right?
Should we write a letter to warn them?

May 16, 2008 11:55 PM
Blimpy said...
it's all a bit green as well. something should be done!

May 17, 2008 12:04 AM
Blimpy said...
ejaydee - if there's gonna be a graph, then it HAS to be an accurate graph, right?
May 17, 2008 12:04 AM

ejaydee said...
That's what I was thinking. And I wasn't gonna say anything, but the scale looks a bit off to me.

May 17, 2008 12:13 AM
ejaydee said...
Wooooaaaahhh. I don't know about this... I'll give it a day because I know these things need to be given a chance, but I'm generally anti-green as a principle.

May 17, 2008 1:31 AM
saneshane said...
please change it...!!
my ms got a tea pot this colour..it could have been it.

I spray painted it blue and put some soil in it for the garden.

not many things get to me but small petty thing like a colour..I'll do a stamp stamp stamp sulk....

no chance..pure visual no no for me.
I SO HATE THIS COLOUR.

May 17, 2008 1:41 AM
steenbeck said...
Well, I do like green, as a color, but I don't think we needed a change.

Why does the graph only go to 2004?

May 17, 2008 3:02 AM
steenbeck said...
It's strange who they chose to include and who is not there at all. Wonder how they picked.

May 17, 2008 3:07 AM
Blimpy said...
i was just trying to be eco friendly....The Spill is the only blog that reuses carrier bags, and recycles music endlessly!!

May 17, 2008 10:27 AM
Blimpy said...
We're "Back To Brown", just like Amy Winehouse!

Arf! Two jokes for the price of one there, god I'm good!!!

May 17, 2008 10:28 AM
saneshane said...
..
it's a bit odd re-reading this..no-one else is going to know what we are on about now.

good jokes!

May 17, 2008 11:03 AM
Blimpy said...
-shane, that;'s too funny; i just re-read them - you'd never be able to guess what's being talked about at all!!

May 17, 2008 2:52 PM
steenbeck said...
I read the comments last night after our dinner guests had left, on my e-mail, without looking at the 'Spill, and I can assure you it was most surreal.

nilpferd said...

ha ha- you guys blog like Miles' band plays music.. I quite like green, though..

ejaydee said...

Well done Nilpferd for pushing the cause so successfully, and for picking such good pieces too. I think I still prefer Eddie Harris' version, or maybe it's the easiest one to listen to, which mean it would get more plays.
I'm trying to guess which is going to be the last track, but I don't think you should stop at 3, go on, make it 5.

nilpferd said...

Thanks ejay.. Aah, I love the Harris version already, but Tony Williams blows me away every time on Miles'. I have to stick to three... I'm taking so long to write these things...

saneshane said...

I like green too..
but certain shades .. (that was one of them) are visual no go areas with me.

It was also the point I realised Blimpy (or anybody) could and would pull anything that we said on here back to haunt us.

my half one in the morning rants possible get less airings these days!!!!

...they just bloody well start earlier..

...re-cycling other blog comments.. you'll do anything to stay top of that leader board.. Blimpy....

snadfrod said...

Nilpferd - I have to say that I really have loved both your Miles pieces so far. Its a level of musical appreciation - and comprehension - to which I one day aspire. Listening to that piece with your guidance really did make a difference, so maybe that is something that I can work from. I just get so fascinated, but dumbfounded, by the idea of music being treated almost as a conversation with phrases and responses and dialogue and so on.

My jazz knowledge thus far extends no further than the basics (Kind Of Blue, Silent Way, Brew, Headhunters, Black Saint, Love Supreme...), but it is an area that I am always wanting to get more into before finally shying away from. Are there any essential books/albums/films that might serve me as well as I would be served by just hiring you and 'hachi to come round for a few days and talk me through it all?...

Thanks again, and why stop at three?

Oh and as for the GU blog - I just can't wait to use that pleasant and attractive interface this weekend. And make it green again Blimpy do. Do.

Blimpy said...

@snad i'll post a poll!

@shane - yep! it's all there in perpetuity!!

nilpferd said...

Those are some pretty awesome basics Snad.. you don't want me going on at you about music, I can assure you.. no need to rush things anyway.. look, I only heard the Eddie Harris album last night for the first time, and I'm totally wrapped about it.. and with "In a silent way", as I said above, in 1990 when a friend played it to me I thought it was nothing.. come 1993, I'm overseas, I've got a crush on someone and I'm listening to it every night on my way over to visit her- it's suddenly awesome, later it brought me together with the other half of the hippo.. what can I say, dip into things, take a risk..

snadfrod said...

Cheers nilpf, that sounds like sage advice to me. I think it will just be a question of time. Silent Way is the one of them all that I really GET, but recently I got floored by Black Saint so Mingus is next for the exploratory treatment, as it were.

Anyway, keep the Miles posts coming!

Blimpy - actually, strike what I said above. I've just been on the GU Mercury Prize blog and I just hate it. I hate it. I hate change and I hate it. That format works for Michael Tomasky's brilliant US blogs, when I don't want to read the rabid crap below, but not for anything that I care about. Let me reiterate. I hate it.

ejaydee said...

I think it looked like this:
http://juniormosko.blogspot.com/

nilpferd said...

Hey Ejay, that first picture looks like KoKoMo (I love you so) ten years later..

Abahachi said...

@snad: Black Saint is by a long distance the most difficult and challenging Mingus record - I'm a massive fan and I have to be in the right mood to appreciate it. I'd recommend Mingus Ah Um as the best place to start; it's got versions of most of his classics (he tended to re-record the same key tunes again and again), esp. definitive versions of 'Better Get It In Your Soul' and 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat', played by an excellent group. Then, in no particular order, Blues and Roots (his most, as you might guess, overtly blues- and gospel-influenced record), Mingus at Antibes (wonderful live set with Eric Dolphy in fine form) and Pithecanthropus Erectus for two tracks, a free-form evocation of the rise and decadence of humanity that anticipates a lot of free jazz, and his sound collage cover of 'A Foggy Day'.

May1366 said...

Brilliant post, nilpferd - only just had the time to digest it. I agree with the comments on Miles and 'freedom'. I think Lester Bowie's view on his own career arc as a free jazz pioneer, he went from playing "what we want" to playing "whatever we want", is relevant here. Miles was a powerful enough figure not to be entrenched in the struggle to control what he played; he just deployed the control he had to push at a series of boundaries and break new ground with his music. By the end, he'd probably arrived at the same base station reached by the avant-garders, just from a different direction.

As for Mingus, Snadfrod, your explorations will be rewarding, I promise you. I can't better the recommendations from Abahachi but I'd also suggest that if you get a chance to listen to, or better still see, the Mingus Big Band, you'll find there's a living legacy for his music that shows that - like Miles - he was neither about conservatism nor unbridled experimentation; simply indestructible, unforgettable music that frees the mind.

snadfrod said...

Thanks for the Mingus tips, guys. I can't wait to get started...

nilpferd said...

Good point, May- Miles was definitely more avant garde than many give him credit for.. but still immensely listenable..

Snadfrod, I've been thinking about key albums, etc, and for me it would be a long lost compilation of Down Beat Jazz Poll Winners from 1960, which had pieces taken from the following albums, among others:

Mingus Ah Um, as mentioned above;

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (All blues)

Gerry Mulligan's What is there to say,
(As catch can) here live-
http://de.youtube.com/watch?v=bUHH9MgSzm4

Time out, by the Dave Brubeck Quartet (Blue Rondo a la Turk)
http://de.youtube.com/watch?v=kc34Uj8wlmE

I also seem to remember Dizzy Gillespies A night in Tunisia,
http://www.lastfm.de/music/Dizzy+Gillespie/_/A+Night+In+Tunisia,and something from trombonist J.J. Johnson.

Sometimes a snapshot like that can send you in many different directions, but it is really hit or miss what you like or don't.
I would definitely recommend checking out some of the many excellent Blue Note albums of the sixties, like Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage, or Wayne Shorter's Speak no evil.
And John Coltrane, of course. "My Favourite things", "Giant Steps" or "Coltranes Sound" are good to find a way in.
Then there are the piano trios.. Bill Evans' "Sunday at the village vanguard", Oscar Peterson's "On the town".. too many albums, so little space...

May1366 said...

Absolutely - there's so many different sounds, styles and settings within the genre that identifying two or three key albums for each would soon have you racking up a heavy few months' worth of listening.

I think the thing is to accept is it's a personal journey. That Miles line-up for Freedom Jazz Dance is a case in point - even if you attempted the gravity-defying task of ignoring Miles, you could devote yourself to exploring the output of each of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams and find plenty of joy.

Same story if your starting point is the Kind Of Blue group, or the Jazz Messengers, or an Ellington or Mingus line-up, or Ornette Coleman's quartet with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higggins. Damn - Don Cherry alone could take you to every continent on the planet!

nilpferd said...

It's definitely hard to try and come up with a set of "must hear" albums for jazz, you end up leaving so much great stuff off- I neglect whole genres above- and I suspect you run the risk also of selecting lowest common denominators, in slave to that "overview" desire.

As you say, I think the best thing (or more specifically, the way I did it..) with jazz is to look at the band members on things you like, and investigate their own work, as well as successive albums by the same people. Seeing as jazz music developed organically, with new generations coming up through bands run by their older peers, and a lot of cross pollination within each generation, it seems to make sense to discover it that way too, just by following your nose, sniffing out sounds you like.
This week was a classic example- through posting Freedom Jazz Dance, I got into the original, and yesterday picked up another great Eddie Harris album in my local store.

steenbeck said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpP1rbTXEPE

nilpferd said...

Thanks Steen- awesome! Clip Joint is up..

steenbeck said...

Oh, and...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8Am8YEAJZ8&feature=related

Have you seen these?

nilpferd said...

They are new to me.. there's a chilled version of Listen Here on Mean Green, but the live performance is out of this world..

steenbeck said...

Sorry, Nilpferd, cross-posting. Now...genetics...

nilpferd said...

That's really cool Steenbeck- just ordered Swiss Movement, the album with the Kaftan track. Pre moon-landing, incidentally, by about a month.

steenbeck said...

June 1969--a magical time!!

Thanks for the original Eddie Harris link, Nilpferd.

DaddyPig said...

Great song and post, thank you, it's good to have a way into this period of Miles Davis. Incredible that there's such freedom but it never descends into chaos the way that free jazz does (to my ears anyway) - real telepathic jazz. Looking forward to no. 3 !

nilpferd said...

Thanks DP! Patience is rewarded, I remember I spent about three years discovering the 4 albums from ESP through to Sorcerer. As you say, despite the freedom there's never chaos in this music, although the band did get closer to "free" playing in some of its live performances in the late sixties.