Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 142: Miles Davis

Today the Odyssey was...a jazz odyssey!

Disc 142 is...Sketches of Spain
Artist: Miles Davis

Year of Release: 1960

What’s Up With The Cover?: The colours of spain meet Miles Davis. This is a very attractive cover - folk musicians take note - it doesn't take a lot to make it look nice.

How I Came To Know It: Eight or ten years ago I was hungry to try some jazz. I had heard of Miles Davis by reputation. I was in the lineup at A&B Sound and a guy in front of me was buying jazz. I asked him what Miles Davis album I should get. He said "Kind of Blue" and I said, "great" and left the lineup to go get it. As I walked away he called out "also Sketches of Spain!" I went with "Kind of Blue" but about a year later I got "Sketches of Spain" as I hadn't forgotten his advice.

How It Stacks Up: I have two Miles Davis albums - but soon I will have only one. It won't be this one.

Rating: 2 stars.

In my early twenties, I really wanted to get jazz, but then the feeling passed. In my early thirties it returned, and with it came this album.

I first listened to "Sketches of Spain" while painting our bedroom. I paid very close attention, knowing that in jazz this is probably important. I ended up lying down for a second to really listen to it, and fell asleep at about track 6.

I can't remember how many times I've put it on since that day, but not very many. It always seems to make me feel either sleepy or enraged.

That isn't to say Miles Davis can't play - that would fly in the face of the facts. His trumpet playing is rightfully famous. On this listen I marvelled anew at how he can so perfectly control long, soulful notes, with slight variations of force within the same note. At least I think that's what he's doing.

That said, Miles Davis in real life never had a problem speaking his mind, so I'll take a cue from him. He plays a good trumpet, and he is obviously famous for a reason, but I don't dig him.

This stuff is all just a little...boring. It noodles all over the place, and yet the noodling reminded me more of bad early James Bond music, rather than a clever reimagining of Spain through music. At any minute I expected two bikini clad gypsy girls to wrestle in a knife fight over Bond's affection (I think that was in an early Bond movie).

I'll be the first person to admit I don't get jazz, but this Odyssey isn't about what other people think of the music (except of course the comments page), it is about my reaction. This style of jazz has a pretentious quality to it. It is aimless meandering music, which somehow is considered so cool that it is beyond reproach. Well, not with me.

While listening to "Sketches of Spain" I actually found myself thinking about another kind of music that I just don't get - techno. Like jazz, techno music seems highly focused on being innovative, doesn't feel the need to get anywhere and is widely regarded by its devotees as 'cool'.

This particular version is a remastered copy with three bonus tracks, taking the album to a whopping eight songs (the first one is 16 minutes plus). Obviously given my reaction, adding three tracks, and a second day in the car did not further endear me to Mr. Davis.

Thelonious Monk - I feel you. Miles Davis - I don't feel you, at least not on "Sketches of Spain."

This is no doubt the most highly regarded album I don't like, but I can't fake it. It is only the 5th album in the Odyssey to hit the 'sell' pile. I remain hopeful "Kind of Blue" is better, but for today, I'm done with Miles Davis.

Best tracks: Solea is pretty good, but I don't upload from albums I sell, so it won't be gracing my MP3 player now or ever.


Chris said...

I'd be happy to take that one off your hands.

Jennifer took that one with her. I remember liking it quite a bit. I haven't replaced it though (it's complicated)

I remember this to be a very atmospheric album.

Logan said...

Sold! It is fitting that this album have a complicated relationship with its owner.

Kelly said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Logan - I think this album sucks. Frankly, I think Miles Davis sucks, and I'm not afraid to say it. I have no doubt that he could play well if he wanted to, but he doesn't. Every time I hear him play he's just making these stupid little sounds on his trumpet like he's learning how to play it, or he's tossing off little three-or-four-note phrases that go nowhere and mean nothing. It's like the guy was so obsessed with being "cool" that he couldn't be bothered to play actual melodies or displays of virtuosity. That's for squares, man! Standing around in a glitter bolero jacket and gigantic wraparound shades, and occasionaly barely making a noise on your instrument, that's where it's at, baby!

Anyways, back to this album and the enormity of its suckitude. It reminds me of a lot of albums that came out in the sixties where some square white dude would try to do orchestral arrangements of ethnic grooves. They would have some lame title like "Patrick Bentley and his Moonlight Orchestra Play Afro-Cuban Rythms" and would be the musical equivalent of a tax accountant throwing up gang signs and doing gangsta rap. Every aspect of the arrangement is a lame whitebread distillation of real Spanish rhythms - that castanet part in the opening track makes me want to punch holes in the wall. Orchestras are great at playing classical music - anything else just makes me wonder which floor I'm going to.

Maybe if Miles had got together with some actual Spanish musicians and jammed together they could have come up with something good. But that would have been too much work. If you read the liner notes, the composer notes that Miles was chronically late for the sessions and some times wouldn't bother to show up at all. What a fucking asshole. And, final parting shot, those liner notes are hilariously pretentious. The composer dude goes on and on as if he's written Beethoven's 5th or something. Get over yourself, pal. A little humility goes a long way.

OK, phew, glad I got that off my chest. Hopefully you don't review any Doors albums soon.