A New Kind of Jazz: Miles Davis, ‘Kind of Blue’ Part I

Miles Davis burst into the Jazz scene in the 1950s, and took the increasingly fringe music to new heights by investing it with color and spontaneity. Kind of Blue (Columbia Records, 1959) was his signature masterpiece. It remains the best-selling Jazz album of all time. I will devote two posts to this seminal work, starting with today’s review of the album by leading Jazz magazine, Downbeat published on October 1, 1959 and presented here with minor edits. The next post will give a bit of historical background to Kind of Blue and discuss the reasons for its greatness.

Downbeat Review (October 1, 1959) Miles Davis Kind of Blue

This is a remarkable album. Using very simple but effective devices, trumpeter Miles Davis has constructed an alum of extreme beauty and sensitivity. This is not to say that this LP is a simple one – far from it. What is remarkable is that the men have done so much with the stark, skeletal material.

All the compositions bear the mark of the Impressionists and touches of Bela Bartok. For example, “So What” (see recording below) is built on two scales, which sound somewhat like the Hungarian minor, giving the performer a Middle Eastern flavour, “Flamenco Sketches” and “All Blues” reflect a strong Ravel influence.

“Flamenco” and “Freddie Freeloader” are both blues, but each is of a different mood and conception: “Sketches” is in 6/8, which achieves a rolling, highly charged effect, while “Freeloader” is more in the conventional blues vein. The presence of pianist Wynton Kelly on “Freeloader” may account partly for the difference between the two.

Miles’s playing throughout the album is poignant, sensitive, and at times, almost morose – his linear concept never flatters. Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane has some interesting solos; his angry solo on “Freeloader” is in marked contrast to his lyrical romanticism on “All Blues.” Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto saxophonist) seems to be under wraps on all the tracks except “Freeloader” when his irrepressible joie de vivre bubbles forth. Drummist Paul Chamber and James Cobb and pianist Bill Evans provide a good, sympathetic backdrop for the horns.

This is the soul of Miles Davis, and it’s a beautiful soul. 

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