Review Summary: “I'll play it first and tell you what it is later.” – Miles Davis
The year is 1960, and it has been one year since Miles Davis had released the album, Kind of Blue
which defined modal jazz, and made a monumental leap into improvisation. Sketches of Spain
is the follow up album to its spectacular predecessor, and Davis could not have followed it up more brilliantly, even though it has an almost completely different vibe.
The last track on Davis’ almost formidable, Kind of Blue
is ‘Flamenco Sketches.’ You may wonder why I am mentioning this track, since it’s off a complete different album. The reasoning being that when Davis’ began his next project - Sketches of Spain
- one year later, ‘Flamenco Sketches’ was the connection between the two, as it served as a bridge from the straight forward cool jazz style that Kind of Blue
did so well, to the innovative and adventurous re-working of traditional Spanish folk songs which are found on Sketches of Spain
. Davis’ drastic change of formula was inspired by a piece, being the first track, entitled ‘Concierto de Aranjuez.’ This piece dug heavily into a deep musical past, giving out tradition flamenco guitar lines and delving into the Arab world of music. ‘Concierto de Arenjuez’ - after the Davis’ adaption - is filled with rich syncopated rhythms and melodic runs, which fills your ears with some of the most blissful jazz you could hope for.
‘Will O’ The Wisp’ follows the spectacular ‘Concierto de Arenjuez’ and gives us a definite wispy
sounding trumpet playing over the length of the piece, while the odd timed percussion feel grooves away in the background. The horn lines on this track are the strength as it delivers an utmost brilliant display of intricacy, while sounding quite gloomy and dark. Davis, being the clever fellow he is then brightens the gloomy and darkness almost straight away with the following track, ‘Pan Piper.’ The piece is a woodwind feature, bringing a bright and summer-y like feel to the table, while once the rhythm section kicks in; it brings a more jazz felt vibe to the table.
The concluding two tracks are probably the strongest, and my favourite. ‘Saeta’ is counted in with an almost straight rhythm, while the horn section accompanies the drum line. This track is really a feature track for Miles, as he is at his near best with his almost perfect articulation, and intonation with the rest of the band. It almost feels like Davis is in your lounge room playing right in front of you. After the initial horn chorus, the piece becomes almost depressing. Though the trumpet work is so impeccable, it’s almost impossible to feel numb listening to it. ‘Solea’ is obviously Spanish felt, but takes a more direct approach, with the rhythm section being so heavily influenced by the Spanish based background, while the horns play with wistful, melancholy ambience through the chart. ‘Solea’ is a much brighter felt piece as the band plays a get-on-your-feet-and-dance-the-night away tune. Davis could not have ended on a much brighter note.
Sketches of Spain
may not able to live up to the brilliance of Kind of Blue
or the popularity of Bitches Brew
, but it definitely makes a strong stand for itself. By changing Spanish cultural tunes into amazing jazz, Davis has followed the line that Percy Grainger took so long ago with orchestral music. Though reading about these cultural links is one thing, but when it comes to the music, there is no substitute but to listen.