Miles Davis – Miles Ahead (1957)

frontcover1Miles Ahead is an album by Miles Davis that was released in 1957 by Columbia Records. It was Davis’ first collaboration with arranger Gil Evans following the Birth of the Cool sessions. Along with their subsequent collaborations Porgy and Bess (1959) and Sketches of Spain (1960), Miles Ahead is one of the most famous recordings of Third Stream, a fusion of jazz, European classical, and world musics. Davis played flugelhorn throughout.

Evans combined the ten pieces that make up the album into a suite, each flowing into the next without interruption; the only exception to this rule was on the title track since it was placed last on side A (this has been corrected on the CD versions). Davis is the only soloist on Miles Ahead, which features a large ensemble consisting of sixteen woodwind and brass players. Art Taylor played drums on the sessions and the then current Miles Davis Quintet member Paul Chambers was the bassist.

A fifth recording date involved Davis alone (re-)recording material to cover or patch mistakes or omissions in his solos using overdubbing. The fact that this album originally was produced in mono makes these inserted overdubbings rather obvious in the new stereo setting.

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Original frontcover

Miles reportedly was unhappy about the album’s original cover, which featured a photograph of a young white woman and child aboard a sailboat. He made his displeasure known to Columbia executive George Avakian, asking, “Why’d you put that white bitch on there?”[10] Avakian later stated that the question was made in jest. For later releases of the record, however, the original cover-photo has been substituted by a photograph of Miles Davis.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz gave Miles Ahead a four-star rating out of a possible four stars, and called the album “a quiet masterpiece… with a guaranteed place in the top flight of Miles albums.”[8] Of Davis’ flugelhorn, Kevin Whitehead of Cadence wrote that it “seemed to suit [Davis] better than trumpet: more full-bodied, less shrill, it glosses over his technical deficiencies.”[9] The Penguin Guide, on the other hand, opined that “the flugelhorn’s sound isn’t so very different from his trumpet soloing, though palpably softer-edged…. [S]ome of the burnish seems to be lost.” (by wikipedia)

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Gil Evans + Miles Davis

This album is perhaps most significant for the process it set in motion — the collaboration between Gil Evans and Miles Davis that would produce Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain, two of Davis’ best albums. That said, this album is a miracle in itself, the result of a big gamble on the part of Columbia Records, who put together Evans and Davis, who hadn’t worked together since recording the critically admired but commercially unsuccessful sides that would later be issued as The Birth of the Cool. Columbia also allowed Evans to assemble a 19-piece band for the recordings, at a time when big bands were far out of fashion and also at a time when the resulting recordings could not be released until two years in the future (because of Davis’ contractual obligations with Prestige). Davis was also expected to carry the album as its only soloist, and manage not to get lost among a cast of supporting musicians that included a huge horn section. To a large extent, he succeeds. Evans’ arrangements in particular are well-suited to the format, and cd1he and Davis formed a deep and close partnership where ideas were swapped back and forth, nurtured, and developed long before they were expressed in the studio. Davis gets off to a great start, with the hyper-kinetic “Springsville,” which seems to almost perfectly embody Evans’ and Davis’ partnership with its light, flexible exchanges between soloist and orchestra. He is strongest on the ballads, though, where his subdued and wistful tone rises high above the hushed accompaniment, especially on “Miles Ahead” and “Blues for Pablo” (which foreshadows the bluesy, Latin-tinged sound of Sketches of Spain). The upbeat “I Don’t Want to Be Kissed (By Anyone but You)” is another strong song, but shows the weakness of the format as Davis intersperses a charming, bright, technically challenging solo with a blasting horn section that occasionally buries him. It is a fine end, however, to an album that gave a hint of the greatness that would come as Evans and Davis fine-tuned their partnership over the course of the next several years. (by Stacia Proefrock)

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Barney Wilen (ts), Miles Davis (t), René Urtreger (p, hidden), Pierre Michelot (b), Kenny Clarke (d)
during the concert in  the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, December 8, 1957

Personnel:
Danny Bank (clarinet)
Bill Barber (tuba)
Joe Bennett (trombone)
Jim Buffington (french horn)
John Carisi (trumpet)
Paul Chambers (bass)
Jimmy Cleveland (trombone)
Sid Cooper (flute, clarinet)
Miles Davis (flugelhorn)
Bernie Glow (trumpet)
Taft Jordan (trumpet)
Wynton Kelly (piano)
Lee Konitz (saxophone)
Tony Miranda (french horn)
Tom Mitchell (trombone)
Louis Mucci (trumpet)
Romeo Penque (flute, clarinet)
Frank Rehak (trombone)
Ernie Royal (trumpet)
Willie Ruff (french horn)
Art Taylor (drums)

Arranged and conducted by Gil Evans

backcover

Tracklist:
01. Springsville (Carisi) 3.27
02. The Maids Of Cadiz (Delibes) 3.53
03. The Duke (Brubeck) – 3:35
04. My Ship (Weill) – 4:28
05. Miles Ahead (Davis/Evans) – 3:29
06. Blues For Pablo (Evans) – 5:18
07. New Rhumba (Jamal) – 4:37
08. Medley Pt. 1: The Meaning Of The Blues (Troup/Worth) 2.48
09. Medley Pt. 2: Lament (Johnson) 2.14
10. I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone but You) (Elliot/Spina) 3.05
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11. Springsville (Remake take 7) (Carisi) 3.16
12. Blues For Pablo (Take 1) (Evans) 3.32
13. Meaning Of The Blues-Lament (Rehearsal) (Troup/Worth) 5.10
14. I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone But You) (Alternate take) (Elliot/Spina) 3.11

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