Pianist Jonathan Gee has always found joy, education and inspiration in the music of Miles Davis. Not just in the man himself but in the playing of his many fine associates, not just in acoustic Miles or electric Miles, but all the way along his long musical path, and not only in the performances of individual musicians but how they operate as bands. Here, in our series by musicians writing about their icons, he picks ten personal favourites:
1. Boplicity from Birth of The Cool 1949
Miles’ first great statement as a band leader were these recordings and Boplicity is my favourite. Miles and Gil Evans together is one of the wonders of jazz and this is where they started. The space is created by Miles’ sound and phrasing and Gil’s orchestration and phrasing. The melody is sublime, positive, lyrical and Ellingtonian. Also the development of the composition is a delight.
2. Move ( Take 1 ) from Live at Birdland (1951)
Denzil Best’s composition, originally heard on Birth of The Cool, is given a different treatment here. To me this is what jazz is all about. Roaring bebop. This is the cauldron that came out of the Parker/Gillespie revolution in the ’40s, which created a space where a new snap, crackle and pop could ferment. Miles is taking full responsibility to lead the charge, and the the language, language integration, drive, phrasing, time placement and vocalisation of the rhythm section ( Tommy Potter, Kenny Drew and Art Blakey ) are perfection.
3. Miles Ahead from Miles Ahead (1957)
Following on from Boplicity – another Miles/Gil composition – again, inspired soulful melody and orchestration, looking back to early ’40s Ellington and forward to Miles’ pianoless solos in the mid-’60s and beyond. I have the complete Miles/Gil recordings and all the other takes are great as well. In a way the balance of this piece points very much to the incomparable Kind of Blue. Even the slightly faster version with a section of piano is worth a listen. And I like the Miles/Quincy version from the ’90s. And the deep musicality of the way Gil writes the accents…
4. Two Bass Hit from Milestones (1958)
Back to the bebop cauldron. Miles’ band on Milestones is firing on all cylinders. This is a classic Dizzy Gillespie big band track, originally a slower Ellington/Blanton type piece sped up into a memorable drum feature for Philly Joe Jones. The eight-bar intro into the Coltrane solo is incredible. The utter balance from then on in…. ( I experienced this concept at first hand with Clifford Jarvis back in the day) …. the Adderley solo sits inside the drum time with total dynamism…. then the eight bars of drums before the last head and then under the last note…. my favourite mini drums concerto.
5. My Funny Valentine from My Funny Valentine – Miles Davis in Concert (1964)
When I first heard this album it was one of those moments when you can’t believe someone could do something this good. This was a civil rights fundraiser concert literally two days after the landmark Civil Rights Act had passed in the House of Representatives, so an extraordinarily landmark moment in AfricanAmerican history expressed by one of African-America’s cultural icons. Miles’ unsurpassable ability to sculpt in sound and phrase is shown in the melody section before the improvising choruses. And he does this totally integrated with his rhythm section because he makes his concept so clear to them.
6. R.J. from ESP (1965)
Astonishing track by Ron Carter. Totally balanced and off-balance at the same time. It is not a slow tempo but the phrasing of the solos makes it seem that it is. The way the solos and harmony connect is very oblique. This was the first album of the classic second quintet. Everyone was bringing particularly iconic tunes to the band. Personally I like the way Herbie Hancock is integrated into every tune. Subsequent albums had him sitting out on a lot of horn solos which offered another sonic angle, but his playing on this album is awesome and very present at all times.
7. Iris from ESP (1965)
More perfection on this Wayne Shorter composition. The way they double the length of the bars
on alternate choruses is a very effective device. This tune was my entry into the second great quintet.
The whole band are playing with Miles-type intensity. Maybe this is their take on the Kind of Blue
space. Amazing instrumental sounds. Incidentally this is a 16-bar composition with a 25-bar
blowing sequence in 3/4 and 6/8. Wayne wrote it as a 10-bar tune in 4/4. It was transformed in
8. Tout de Suite from Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968)
A favourite album of mine. A beautiful composition – again some strange balances in the blowing section going on. Miles is deep in his rhythm section almost getting thrown off in letting Tony Williams lead – it’s like they are really delving into the unknown. Incredible drumming – maybe the sound of Tony Williams shaped this band second only to Miles. There is also lots of uncredited Gil Evans in this album. Gil’s involvement always added some other dimensions. Also how Herbie’s warmth and Ron’s presence shine through. The day after the recording of this track they recorded the fantastic title track and that was the last day this quintet spent in the studio.
9. Yesternow. Film from 1971, Oslo
This favourite piece of ’70s Miles is actually a live version of his composition Yesternow from Nov 1971 in Oslo. I think it is just available to be heard on film on YouTube. This sounds like a great jazz group. Micheal Henderson’s ostinato is so deep. The Ndugu, Mtume and Alias percussion section is so sensitive, Gary Bartz is so musical, and Keith Jarrett seems to give so many options to Miles. Incidentally my favourite solo Jarrett album is Facing You which was recorded the next day in the same city. The Miles effect.
10. Decoy from Decoy 1983
Decoy comes from a period when I was buying Miles Davis albums in real time and seeing him on his visits each year. This album is my jewel for this period and this is a great track written by Robert Irving. It feels like a strange mix of reimagined Earth Wind and Fire groove, and Gothamesque melody… it’s very original and its balance travels well. Miles, Branford and Sco’ are wailing, and I love the percussion breakdown into the guitar solo. The Munch plays suitably fat bass. What Scofield and Irving are up to within the rhythm section is so musical… Classic Miles.
Jonathan Gee’s website is jonathangeetrio.co.uk
His most recent albums are
– Ohisashiburi: Reimagining The Beatles – On Spotify, with CDs available imminently
– Gee Gallo Minetto Live in Rome at Villa Celimontana Festival