Highlights From The Plugged Nickel
musika sa pamamagitan ng Milya Davis
Dec. 22nd and 23rd, 1965: Columbia/Legacy CSK 7036
1. Milestones 11:49
2. Yesterdays 15:00
3. So What 13:36
4. Stella By Starlight 13:09
5. Walkin’ 11:01
6. Round About Midnight 8:42
Initially one might wonder why I would include a 1960s Miles Davis sampler on my blog where I discuss major free jazz recordings. But upon further listening to this particular recording, one finds a high degree of free improvisation in these particular takes of Miles’ own original and standard songs, culled from two 1965 performances at Chicago’s Plugged Nickel nightclub (not released in full until 1995 as a major box set). Though Davis sticks fairly close to tradition, Herbie Hancock’s piano ‘comping’ and Wayne Shorter’s soloing on Walkin’, for example, contain chromatic modes and thematic re-harmonizations nowhere near the original chords – the song retaining the flavor of a fast blues but utilizing harmony quite radically unique to the moment of improvisation. It is this open approach to standard material in Herbie Hancock’s and Wayne Shorter’s contributions to the recordings that makes this creative period of Davis’ (1965-68: Miles Smiles in particular) quite popular amongst improvisers of all stripes. As Todd Coolman describes in the liner notes to “Miles Davis: The Complete 1965 – 1968 Recordings” (Sony/Columbia Legacy 67398), there were several moments where song-forms spontaneously expanded or contracted: a risky process for less capable performers. Their music was quite literally “telepathic (p. 43). The music also changed every night, and on many nights the entire band had no idea where any given tune might go” (p. 46). In a manner of speaking, this material represents a ‘best of all worlds’ balance of harmony, tradition, freedom, and structure.
As well, the aforementioned studio recordings contain a number of mistakes, uneven entrances and unsure endings that were not edited or removed for release. On Freedom Jazz Dance (Miles Smiles: Columbia Legacy CK 65682) Davis enters early without Wayne Shorter, and abruptly stops playing after only six notes (0:05), before Shorter enters with the melody. Similarly, Davis enters into the second section of “Dolores” before aborting the process (5:12) and waiting for Shorter to join him, which also results in another incomplete statement (5:19). Yet these mistakes, as well as Davis’ occasionally cracking tone, add a certain human imperfection to the music that seems poignant rather than faulty: indicative of a ‘lived’ quality to the music.
Wayne Shorter once stated that Miles was the only bandleader who paid his personnel not to practice at home in order to keep things fresh. Davis himself also stated that if you ‘put a musician in a place where he has to do something different from what he does all the time, he then has to use his imagination and be much more creative or innovative.’ Then, anything can happen and that’s where great art and music comes from. Of course, having – a pianist with degrees in electrical engineering and musical composition who performed Mozart with the Chicago Symphony at age eleven, a bassist with a Master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, a saxophonist with a degree in music education and formal art training with a genius level ability to compose non-functional harmonies, and a child prodigy drummer who studied with both Max Roach and Art Blakey – increases the odds that the freedom allowed in Davis’ quintet would be put in very capable musical hands. Davis himself lived and worked with saxophone legend Charlie Parker for a time after a year at the prestigious Julliard School. The quality of searching for and not quite reaching perfection in this particular ensemble works in the music’s favor, as these mistakes almost sound like arrangements, or in the case of Davis’ tone emotive techniques not based on tonality as much as timbre. In fact, one might criticize modern jazz recording as being too pristine, too symmetrical and ordered to carry the more subtle nuances or clarion callings of profound emotion. Still, it dos raise the question of what is truly “free” in jazz, and the Plugged Nickel samplings may contain something of an answer.