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    The Best Miles Davis Albums

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    Miles Davis is one of the most important figures in modern music. He began his career in the bebop scene with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, reinvented jazz with John Coltane in the 50's, formed one of the greatest jazz bands in the 60's, played with Hendrix, introduced electric jazz towards the end of the decade, and embraced hip hop towards the end of his career and life. Miles never made apologies. Miles called his own shots. He drove Ferraris, dated beautiful women, wore the best clothes, did every drug in the book, and didn't give a shit about anyone who had a problem with that. Of course, outside of his sometimes abrasive personality, Miles Davis will go down in history for his forward-thinking and vast musical vision. Let's look at his most important albums.

    PSA: Vinyl Revinyl would like to remind you that Miles Davis sounds best on vinyl. Why not give your ears a treat with some new Miles Davis Albums?

    Birth of the Cool

    The Birth of the Cool is a compilation album made up of tracks recorded in the late 40's. It features an unusually large band (Nine people) for the style of music Miles was playing at the time. This album was one of the first to be called "Cool Jazz", because unlike the big, danceable sound of swing, and the fast-paced sound of bebop, this new music was slower, quieter, and more relaxed. This album is important in the history of Miles Davis, as it was his first musical effort as a bandleader. The album also featured some collaborations with Gil Evans who was one of Miles' closest collaborators; They would go on to work together on a few other important projects that are considered some of the greatest performances in jazz history.

    The music on Birth of the Cool is very approachable. It has some livelier songs, such as "Move" and some slower ones, such as "Moon Dreams". Overall, Birth of the Cool is a must-have album for any jazz fan, and especially any Miles Davis fan.

    Kind of Blue

    Kind of Blue is Miles Davis' most famous album. In fact, most people would say that Kind of Blue is the FIRST jazz album you should ever buy. Beyond that, Kind of Blue is regularly cited as one of the greatest albums of all time. With good reason, too. Kind of Blue features Miles in top form, and another jazz giant: John Coltrane. Kind of Blue is also an important album in the evolution of jazz, as it features a new system of improvisation. In bebop, musicians would improvise based on harmonic structure; on Kind of Blue, the improvisation is based on modes. This new system of improvising allowed for more improvisational freedom, opening new doors for jazz musicians. This new style of jazz became known as "Modal Jazz", and would influence all of the jazz that would come after.

    The music on Kind of Blue is cool. This is a classic late night album for it's slower, relaxed pace, smooth lines, and just all-around mellowness. The opening track "So What" has become a jazz standard, and is one of the most recognizable jazz songs ever. Another classic is "All Blues". Kind of Blue is the first album that really showcased Miles Davis as a forward-thinking innovator. This album belongs in everyone's collection, period.

    Sketches of Spain

    After Kind of Blue, Miles Davis released Sketches of Spain, which is dramatically different. Another collaboration with Gil Evans, Sketches of Spain contains arrangements of traditional Spanish folk songs. The music sounds more like classical than jazz, and was initially confusing to followers of Miles Davis. It features a large band and big sound, and is very interesting to listen to as it conjures up a lot of images. I can't help but to visualize the Spanish landscape when listening to Sketches of Spain. What makes Sketches of Spain an important phase of Miles' musical evolution is the fact that it is so different from what he had ever done in the past, and even from what he would go on to do after. This album stands out as a unique work in Miles' discography, and showcases his continually evolving taste and vision.

    The classic song on the album is the first track, Concierto de Aranjuez. This 15 minute long piece starts slow, yet builds up quickly. It takes us on a journey and conjures up images and emotion. The other tracks on the album, while shorter, are just as interesting and visual. Sketches of Spain is a great album to enjoy with headphones on and your eyes closed.

    Miles Ahead

    Miles Ahead is another collaboration with Gil Evans, but very different from Sketches of Spain. It features a large band, with Miles being the only soloist. In addition to playing trumpet, he also plays the flugelhorn, which has a more mellow and rich tone than the trumpet. Most of the songs are covers of jazz standards, with a few songs written by Davis and Gil Evans. In Miles' autobiography, he tells a story about how Dizzy Gillespie told him that he loved Miles Ahead so much that he wore the record out in three weeks. Miles was very happy with the music on Miles Ahead, and it continues to be one of his most popular albums. The music is big and full sounding, and definitely loud, but doesn't quite have the same feel as the big swing bands from the previous decade. In some ways it's reminiscent of the neo-classical/jazzy music that people like Gershwin were doing, but not quite. However you define it, Miles Ahead is a great albums full of great music.

    E.S.P.

    The first album featuring Miles's "Second Great Quintet", E.S.P. showcases one of the greatest jazz bands ever assembled. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter all played on this album, and all had great careers in music. Most of these guys are still playing today. In fact, this album is really more about Miles' band than Miles himself. Sooooo, why am I including it? The reason is because this band solidified Miles Davis' reputation as a legendary bandleader. Four of the seven songs performed on the album were written by members of the band, and the remaining three were written by Davis in collaboration with members of the band. Some might say that this takes away from the credibility of the album, but really the opposite is true. Miles had an ear for talent, and he played with some of the greatest musicians in jazz. He knew it would be foolish to not use the talent of his musicians, and he had the confidence in them and himself to step back and let them shine. So, how does E.S.P. sound? It's a mix of the old and the new. While reminiscent of Kind of Blue in many ways, it also has some more upbeat tunes, such as the title track. Some of the songs on the album also appeared on band members' albums, such as Herbie Hancock's rendition of "Little One" on his album Maiden Voyage, and Wayne Shorter's song "Iris" is similar to "Infant Eyes" on his album "Speak No Evil". This album is a classic 1960's jazz album, featuring the cool sound you would expect from Miles Davis.

    In a Silent Way

    In a Silent Way is another very important album in Miles' musical evolution. This album features electrical instruments, which was a radical departure from what jazz musicians had been doing up until then. At this time, Miles was inspired by rock and funk music, although the album doesn't sound like rock or funk. Amazingly, the album sounds more like certain kinds of ambient electronic music that got popular in the 90's. This album is also widely considered the first jazz fusion album, which is a mix of rock and funk, plus electrical instruments. In fact, many of the most famous fusion musicians played on this album: Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Tony Williams, and Joe Zawinul all appear on this album, and all of them went on to even more fame in their own fusion bands.

    The music on In A Silent Way is very ambient. It's made up of two tracks, each over 18 minutes long. It is fairly mellow, with very little loud or fast parts. It has a soft edge, and unique sound due to the electric instruments. This one of my favorite background music albums because it isn't jarring, yet it's always interesting.

    Bitches Brew

    After In a Silent Way, Miles released Bitches Brew. This album was also electric, but very different from In A Silent Way. While In A Silent Way is very ambient and mellow, Bitches Brew is in your face. This album features more elements of rock and funk, but is still very different. It has some elements of the Avant-Garde (but not really), and I think it even has some similarities to Sketches of Spain because the music is very visual to me. Bitches Brew is also one of Miles' least approachable albums. It can at times be jarring and dramatic, and at other times be tranquil and easygoing. A listen to Bitches Brew is always an interesting ride. Of course, it's important to note that this album is not really "free" jazz, which was also popular at the time. The music on Bitches Brew is deliberate and tells a story. If you put this one and close your eyes, you can definitely visualize the emotion in the music. The cover of the album helps put things in perspective: We have storms, a poppy flower on fire, oceans, a black person and a white person joined together, night, day, some sort of villain, and a tribal person. What does it all mean? There are many ways to interpret both the art and the music, but to reach an understanding of both, they need to be experienced. Bitches Brew is an artistic triumph, and anyone who is serious about music needs this album.

    Honorable Mentions:

    There are over 1oo Miles Davis albums, and it's impossible to summarize his entire career with just the above albums. Here are a few more albums that are important in Miles' evolution.

    Round About Midnight: The first album Miles recorded with John Coltrane. Features the famous songs "Round Midnight", "Bye Bye Blackbird", and "Dear Old Stockholm".

    Miles in the Sky: The first album where Miles uses electric instruments. This album is an early look into his Rock, Funk, and Fusion phase that would come over the next few years.

    On The Corner: Probably the most controversial album Miles ever released. Featuring hard-driving funk, and some elements of the avant-garde, many referred to this album as "anti-jazz".

    The Man With The Horn: The first album released after Miles' 6 year retirement in the late 1970's. This album features a mix of some of the fusion sound from his fusion days in the 70's, but also has elements of pop and rock music.

    Doo Bop: We'll never know what Miles thought of this album because he died before it was complete. It is an interesting look into the early fusion of jazz and hip hop that would gain popularity in the mid 1990's. Whether Miles would have loved or hated the end product, this album shows that up until the very end, Miles was always looking to do new things with his music.

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    Topics: jazz, Musicians I Like | 2 Comments »

    2 Responses to “The Best Miles Davis Albums”

    1. Wonder6789 Says:
      December 4th, 2011 at 10:21 pm

      Deserving mention:

      Milestones : cornerstone of post-bop and modal jazz, arguably the peak of jazz improvisation.

      Tutu : Miles’ strongest 80’s album, helped by a unique, air-tight sound vision from Marcus Miller.

    2. Cameren Lee Says:
      July 8th, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      My favorite albums by Miles (in semi-chronological order). Bear in mind that I went backwards from the 68-75 era, which literally changed my currently 16-year old life:

      Birth Of The Cool
      Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants
      Round About Midnight
      Kind Of Blue
      Sketches Of Spain
      Miles Smiles
      Nefertiti
      In A Silent Way
      Bitches Brew
      A Tribute To Jack Johnson
      On The Corner
      Get Up With It (I consider this the last studio Davis meisterwork – it isn’t seamless, but it is absolute brilliance to me, notably the tracks He Loved Him Madly, Calypso Frelimo, and Maiysha)
      Agharta/Pangaea (Mind-melting. Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas are indistinguishable from Hendrix himself on these two live double albums. Agharta is superior due to the increased participation of Davis (for five-minute stretches in Pangaea, I imagine him behind the mixing consoles shooting up and wolfing down ramen, since it was recorded in Osaka).)

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