Review Summary: Miles’ seminal, genre-creating album is bolstered by mostly excellent improvisations and a few alternate takes that provide invaluable insight into how Davis and co. arrived at such a different sound.
3 of 3 thought this review was well written
By 1969, jazz was ready for the next big thing. Rock had reduced jazz from its 40s and 50s dominance to stereotyped lounge music, putting its popularity at an all time low. Miles Davis, already a legend in the jazz world, saw the writing on the wall and decided to take things in a new direction: he blended jazz with acid rock.
Originally released in 1969, In a Silent Way would, for many, announce the birth of a new jazz. For others, it was considered the final nail in jazz’s coffin. Though time has converted many of these holdouts, there are still a few who adamantly decry the direction Davis took jazz. But for all their elitist blustering, anyone with an open mind could see that Miles Davis single-handedly saved jazz. To carve out this new section of musical territory, Davis recruited some serious talent. For God’s sake, just look at the lineup; every single one would go on to be a giant of jazz fusion. Chick Corea would form Return to Forever. Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland would often work together and Hancock would be responsible for some of the more commercially viable fusion. Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul would go on to form Weather Report. Tony Williams created Lifetime. And John McLaughlin, well, he became arguably the figurehead of jazz fusion; playing in Lifetime, recording with Santana, pioneering indo-jazz, and, oh yeah, starting up a little group called the Mahavishnu Orchestra. All these future legends cut their teeth on this album, which alone should warrant its purchase by any serious (or even casual) fan of jazz.
Consisting of only two side-long tracks, the original In a Silent Way was as revolutionary as it was reserved; no one had ever heard such a sound, and yet Miles and his superb band were clearly stumbling in the dark. The rhythm section provided a steady beat while Miles would gently venture into the unknown; they were his tether, his trail of breadcrumbs that led back from the edge of the world back onto solid ground. McLaughlin and the two pianists were greatly reserved as well, though at times they would join their boss for some more exciting improvisation. Though at times the album could stick too long to a safe groove or meander (mostly in the first track “Shhh/Peaceful”), it managed to be both a soothing bridge from old to new as well as a complete severance of all ties to his former sound.
The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions features the original album as well as 2 and a half discs of studio improvisations that were cut for timing reasons as well as alternate takes of the tracks that made up the final LP. The first disc acts as a bridge between Miles’ last album, Filles de Kilimanjaro, and In a Silent Way. “Mademoiselle Mabry” and “Frelon Brun” show Davis gently moving away from his previous material and tepidly trying something new. While the edited versions that ended up on FDK still hint at his movement towards rock, here it is slightly more pronounced and Mabry in particular sounds better than ever and more of a Hendrix tribute than the released version. Things start picking up with “Two Faced” and “Dual Mr. Anthony Tillman Williams Process.” With Hancock joining the group, the material starts sounding more like what was heard on the final product. Here, they take Miles’ modal jazz and break it down into its simplest forms; by reducing it to its core they can add a whole new sound on top of it. Williams steady yet subtly frantic drumming is a particular highlight; it’s never flashy yet his fills and rhythms are the primary force.
“Splashdown” adds Zawinul to the mix and, remarkably, Davis barely plays at all. By adding yet another electric piano to the mix, Davis creates a much more psychedelic sound. With Davis largely sitting out, it falls to Wayne Shorter to make up for his absence, which he does marvelously. His playing here is reminiscent of Coltrane, making for an interesting mix of modal jazz and the psychedelic funk being played by the pianists. Starting here and with disc two, we can really see Davis and his group of young upstarts forging something out of their initial experiments. “Ascent” is a beautifully soft tune that the band gently wafts through, but “Directions.” With Williams momentarily out of the studio forming Lifetime, Davis brings in Jack DeJohnette, who can’t match Williams’ skill yet still provides a killer beat. Both parts of the track are unedited and show the band in their raw talent, able to crash ahead seemingly blindly, yet to keep regrouping in a way that proves there is a method to the madness. Shorter’s solo in particular in incredible.
The alternate takes of the LP material show off the talents of the 9th member of the group, producer Teo Macero. It allows you to see how he edited countless minutes of innovation into something less meandering. “The Ghetto Walk” is the last highlight of the additions, a 26 minute jam that is the only track in the entire box set that points to the chaos Davis would unleash with Bitches’ Brew. Like that album, it loses focus at times, yet it is a fascinating look into a man who was years ahead of his time. The original album ends the set, a perfect ordering that really allows the listener to hear how Davis, through natural jam progression as well as Teo’s gift for editing, went from slight modifications of his cool jazz to a whole new beast. In the end, Davis hired all this new, young talent in order to draw inspiration, but the relationship was symbiotic; Davis learned new ways to play jazz, and Davis brought out the best in a slew of players who, until that point, merely exhibited great potential.
While In a Silent Way is, by today’s standards, barely fusion, it is still completely removed from all that came before it, and it groomed the best and brightest of a new music. An essential album made inexplicably better.
I'm a huge Davis fan and pretty well versed on the bulk of the catalog. So, I can't see anyone pointing towards 'In A Silent Way' as a decent gateway into the music of Miles. There's much better vantage points that this snorefest. In fact, I actually use this album, along with Joe Zawinul's self-titled solo debut, to fall asleep at night. The tempo remains consistently mellow throughout and the approach here is entirely atmospheric. You certainly don't listen to this record expecting to hear anything approximating melody or theme. What piqued my interest in this collection is the inclusion of additional material. I noticed that all of the titles on Disc One are from either 'Filles de Killimanjaro' or 'Water Babies'. And, the entirety of the former, along with the first half of the latter happens to be my favourite era in the entire Davis discography. Am I right to assume that these tracks are alternate takes of the material presented on 'FDK' and 'WB'? If they're just the same takes, then why remove them from their source, dragging them over and associating them with the unrelated material on 'In A Silent Way'? I understand that the material on the second side of Water Babies is the mid-point between the two periods, but the merger seems rather random and superfluous.
Um...where did I say this was a good gateway into Miles' music? I said it was the birth of fusion...because it is. Yeah, the first wo tracks were cut from FDK. Water Babies is a compilation of tracks recorded around 67-68, but the linup here is different (those tracks were from his FDK lineup and don't feature McLaughlin, while Zawinul is on neither version).
So yeah, some material has been previously released on "mining the vaults" compilations, but a lot of it is different (alternate takes don't count for much in rock but in jazz things can be VASTLY changed; different lineups, different themes, and of course, different improvs). Trust me, this is probably the one box set of alt takes/cut stuff I can ever listen to from start to finish. It's brilliant. I agree that In a Silent Way is mellow, but I don't see how that makes it a crap album. Miles' cool jazz is easy to listen to and relaxing, doesn't make it bad. Of course, it's all opinion anyway.
Oh, you didn't say it. But, I can hear ya thinking it, bro. lol. Nah, I have no idea who, or what, that comment was directed at. Sorry, I was off getting high with Towelie before posting that. So, yeah, sure, 'In A Silent Way' can be pointed towards as the beginning of the Fusion genre. But, wouldn't it have been a hugely boring direction if Davis was entrusted to write the rulebook? These sessions and the subsequent Bithces Brew sessions are most definitely some very innovative and forward-looking stuff. I've grown to love the material, where at first I thought it was all meandering, directionless noodling. For Davis, the problems really arise directly following this era, where he continues further and further down the same path, but has less and less to offer. I'm talking about the majority of the 'Big Fun' and 'Get Up With It' stuff. I'm truly surprised that one of his monster sidemen didn't intervene and impose some kind of more refined structure on it all.
As the years progress, Davis becomes too comfortable in creating these deeply atmospheric aural tapestries that eventually became marked with a certain 'sameness'. 1970's Jack Johnson album seemed to really portend of a true Jazz-Rock Fusion for Davis, like what can be heard coming from the rest of his Bithces Brew cohorts in the years to come. But, instead of following through and establishing a new musical formula after this recording, he falls back to the 'BB' playbook by '71 and continues on with this directionless direction until '74. Although, I have to admit that I love the 'Agharta' record. But, then again, that's a live album, featuring much of the Jack Johnson material. But, I digress, no? Sure, I do. And, often. I really just wanted to get something straight about this 'Complete In A Silent Way' box.
So, you're saying that the entirety of Disc One is lifted directly from the 'FDK' and 'WB' official releases? And, that the stuff on Disc Three is the only 'unreleased' material in this set? Well, then I want no part of this marketing scheme. I look at the 'FDK' material, along with the first half of 'WB' and the entirety of 'Miles in the Sky' as being vastly superior to the 'In A Silent Way' sessions. And, to impose some kind of artificial classification system on all of this material, lumping all of it together and presenting it as one cohesive work is ludicrous. Just how many times are they going to rearrange/repackage the career of Miles Dewey Davis? The monetary motivation is blatantly obvious and quite despicable. I, for one, am not buying into this illusion they present of a 'Complete IASW' box. Nah, I'll pass on this one...BUT, I could probably be easily sold on the idea of a 'Cellar Door Sessions 1970' set. So far, I know nothing about this small musical sidenote in time. But, already, I do see there’s some overlap in song titles between the 'CDS70' set and the 'Complete Bithces Brew Sessions'. Right off the bat this looks fishy to my eye. More milking of the Davis discography? I don’t know. You tell me. Has anyone reviewed the 'Cellar Door' set here?
Absolutely not. But, you probably haven't really listened to the stuff intensely enough to warrant that sorta comment. It takes mucho tiempo to be able to discern what's really goin' on within any Classic-Era Jazz recording. It literally requires a huge paradigm shift in consciousness if you are coming from a strict diet of Rock and Pop. I can certainly attest to this claim. Because this Jazzy Jazz thang made absolutely no sense to this particular brother on first exposure. I thought it was all bullocks. I remember my first assumption was that it all sounded like a random aggregate of notes, played without any structure at all, with the implicit aim of filling the maximum amount of temporal space. But, this was a defect in my perception, and not at all reflective on the music itself. Jazz is literally a completely different musical language from other forms. Something very foreign if your musical diet consist only of Rock and Pop. And, you don't learn any kind of language overnight. You ease yourself into the schitt. If you grab yourself just one classic Jazz recording and listen to the thing once a week, it will eventually starting taking shape right before your eyes....ears. That's one of the things I love about the genre. Each recording takes a chunk of time to unfold. There's no way that you can like or dislike a Jazz album on the first couple of spins. The melodies, harmonies and rhythms are all hiding from you at the get-go. And, as you keep on returning to the piece, it reveals more and more about itself. Dig? Can I get an Amen?
Oh, you didn't say it. But, I can hear ya thinking it, bro. lol. Nah, I have no idea who, or what, that comment was directed at. Sorry, I was off getting high with Towelie before posting that.
haha it was directed at you but i was just joking. the massive comments are great. don't quit. and i understand what your saying about jazz hard to digest, but for me, i listen to a lot of classical music, and i'm a musician, so it's not too hard for me.
Welllllllll, although Baroque/Classical/Romantic are all quite complex, the musical ideas expressed are hugely removed from the abstract nature of Jazz. A completely different set of chord progressions, scales, timing, phrasings, etc. is employed in Jazz. This is no sleight on the practioners of Classical, just an observation about fundamental differences. So, listening to boatloads of the stuff will never prepare you for Jazz.....Progressive Metal, maybe. But, not Jaze. I play the bass myself and I'd like to think that I'm about as open-minded to the various genres of music as one can be, G. But, that doesn't mean that there won't always be some small 'blind' period between a fella's first exposure to a new Jazz recording and, say, my 5th or 6th spin. Dig? The more complex the musical ideas are, the longer it takes for your, mine, our brains to decipher the music's subtle intracacies. No? Sure.
yeah i here you. i'm a drummer so i can easily see that jazz drummers (the good ones) are the most skilled drummers out there. and along with that, i pick up on the odd time signatures that go along with jazz. for me, jazz, along with classical music, are the most rewarding genres to listen to when i actually take the time to absorb them. have you ever listened to Esperanza Spalding? she's probably one of the best modern day jazz players i've ever heard.
Awesome album, although I'm not convinced that the complete set is required listening. I think most people would get by with the standard In A Silent Way. In my opinion this is Davis's best. Davis was never about complicated chord progressions, fast modal soloing or technical mastery of the trumpet. He was all about getting a groove down that makes you nod your head and tap your feet. This is Miles epitomized.This Message Edited On 08.19.08