Review Summary: Miles takes Gil Evans' arrangements and compositions and puts his own jazzy soloing over them. Backed with more of a wind ensemble than a jazz band, Sketches of Spain is a blend of styles that is still unforgettable today.
How do I begin about Miles Davis? There is so much to say about the man. He may be the single most important man in jazz history, alongside of greats like Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. Two decades of jazz run straight through the evolution of his recordings and he never looked back on his earlier days of bebop. Taking a listen to Miles’ style of playing, he sounds so different from other trumpet players. He played so melodically, using long, legato notes and rarely using fast fingers or an extremely high range to show off his talent. It is his simplicity in rhythmic structure that made him so brilliant and accessible. His beautiful tone fits Sketches of Spain better than possibly any of his other albums, simply because the atmosphere revolves around him. Here, there are no splashy swing beats and rapid bass walking. Sketches of Spain works as an orchestral, beautiful, flowing tribute to Spain, and is one of Miles’ best compilations with Gil Evans.
Sketches of Spain is much more than a jazz album. Instruments include bassoon, French horn, and bass clarinet, some of the furthest instruments from jazz possible. With 27 musicians, the album puts Miles Davis in the grandest and most epic project he ever participated in. Although only five tracks long, Sketches of Spain spans over 40 minutes of slow, smooth music. Miles constantly takes the lead, playing either on trumpet or flugelhorn and utilizing his style to its greatest capacity. The orchestral swells and climatic pseudo-jazz shout choruses mixed together create one of the most original sounds ever. Amazingly, two out of five songs are not originals. The epic of the album and the most famous song from the Gil Evans/Miles Davis era, Concierto de Aranjuez
, is an original composition from Joaquin Rodrigo. Taken at a slow adagio, the song grows and falls brilliantly, climaxing at huge trumpet choruses. Miles, as always, leads along the softer sections, using his trumpet for this song. The Spanish atmosphere sets itself perfectly, making one of the best Miles songs ever as well as the standout on the album. With Miles’ chops in full form, the trumpet choruses never sounded better.
The album moves along through a sequence of shorter, almost pop song length songs. The jazziest song on the album, Will O’ the Wisp
, is the other Gil Evans arrangement, the last three songs being original compositions. Will O’ the Wisp
features muted trumpet and a French horn backing. The unique voicing makes the song an interesting listen, but it still seems a bit unforgettable in comparison to the rest of the album. The Pan Piper
keeps the French horn and it plays some themes from Will O’ the Wisp
but makes the flute the main unique instrument. Saeta
serves as a Spanish trumpet fanfare, an Evans composition and certainly a unique one. Overall, the middle three tracks all meld together as a quiet, trumpet-led affair. Finally, the album reaches Solea
, the closer and an epic song even in comparison to Concierto de Aranjuez
. The song’s main groove feels almost like background music to a James Bond movie. It’s sneaky, quiet, and intense, yet still not distracting. The song slowly increases in volume while Miles solos throughout the entire song. The backing orchestra plays background fills throughout the entire song, and it sustains for over twelve minutes simply because of Miles’ brilliant soloing.
Overall, Sketches of Spain is a quiet affair, much like most of Miles’ work. What makes Sketches of Spain so special is the styles and arrangements of Gil Evans. Miles is simply the performer on this album, but none of the compositions or arrangements are his. Gil Evans never receives enough credit for this album. He masterfully made Concierto de Aranjuez
his own and now that version of the song will be forever remembered as the definitive version. He put unique and new styles into his original compositions, a perfect blend of classical and jazz that Miles makes so relaxing. Although the album drags a bit in the middle with the anti-climatic The Pan Piper, it stands as an oddity in the Miles Davis discography, a small break from jazz while he gathered together his second sextet.
Concierto de Aranjuez
Will O’ the Wisp