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on January 26, 2004
Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
Among instrumentalists, the collaborations of Miles Davis and Gil Evans are often controversial. Though people universally acknowledge that Evans was a genius as an arranger, it's not easy for those who want a full out hard-bop blowing session to adjust to the cool colors and laid back aesthetic of these works. For many; the most difficult of the Davis/Evans collaborations is this third one in the series. While Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess both have obvious roots in big band writing, Sketches of Spain delves into material that was generally not in the mainstream at the time. That it does so with subtlety and style is something that can often be overlooked by those who wish that Miles would blow more.
Sketches of Spain has its genesis in the slow movement of the Rodrigo Concierto di Arguanez, one of the most beloved pieces of classical music out of Spain. Both Miles and Gil Evans were taken with the piece when they were introduced to it and it forms the centerpiece of the album, and the number that seems to register the greatest number of complaints. Purists in the classical world dislike it's fast and loose treatment of the original work, and in fact, Rodrigo was on record as detesting the final product. And jazz musicians felt the work to be pretentious, with not enough room for Miles to solo, and not enough out and out swing. There was also a feeling that the work was just blatantly copied from it's origins and that any brilliance in the work was due to Rodrigo, not to Evans.
A careful hearing, especially a side-by-side comparison with the original Concierto, can dispel much of the criticism of this work. Evans does not merely imitate the piece; he imaginatively rethinks it for wind ensemble. Instead of the spare English Horn and strings with which Rodrigo opens the work, Evans creates a shimmering bed of castanets and harp, over which he layers low flutes and French horns an muted brass, moving in a dense carpet of parallel fourths. While the main points of the original form are followed, with Miles taking mostly the guitar parts, there are many sections that illustrate the genius of Evans, the arranger. Particularly impressive is Evans rethinking of the guitar cadenzas. For the first cadenza Evans contrasts Miles in his dark low register, with beautifully balanced chords in the flutes and low brass, characterized by unusual voicings that include tense dissonances at the top of the chord. Also stunning is the original section that Evans uses to replace the second cadenza. The bass begins an understated vamp. Miles solos over it with his typical cool understatement and the orchestra builds to the climax of the work.
The other cuts on the album are even more understated, but also highly original. Two particularly stand out. Saeta is inspired by a traditional Holy Week procession in which an effigy is paraded through a town, interrupted by a long mournful solo by Davis. The orchestration in this part is stunning. Evans layers martial percussion, a faint bassoon solo and a brass band against Miles' beautiful trumpet. The effect is a jazz tone poem, in the best tradition of the Ellington Orchestra.
The other standout on the album is Solea. This work is a long, beautiful Miles solo over a constantly changing orchestral vamp. Evans shows considerable ingenuity in constantly varying the rather static two-chord vamp, and Miles is given just one scale to improvise on. Though this album came out after Kind of Blue, it was recorded several months earlier, and you can see the influence that Evans had on Miles' revolutionary small group album.
The re-mastering of this album is terrific. The clarity by which you can hear the delicate sounds such as the castanets and the harp is truly lovely. It compares favorably to the old LP version. My one gripe with this reissue, which I have with most of the Columbia reissue series, is that the filler material is basically not worthy to be released. On this one, the filler includes a Brazilian character piece, which belongs in the filler to the Quiet Nights album instead, and two alternative versions of parts of the Concierto. Though last pieces have some documentary value, they are both vastly inferior to the final product and are ultimately annoying to listen to. I would prefer to have the album as it was finally released and save this sort of material for boxed set compilations, even if that means I only get 40 minutes worth of music.
In conclusion, this is a classic album, worthy to join the other Evans/Davis collaborations. It even pushes the art of jazz arranging farther than the other records. And the influence of this work on the history of jazz arranging and composition can't be overestimated. Don Sebesky, Bill Holman and numerous other large group arrangers continually show their debt to the genius of Evans. But, for those who want to hear Miles blow; stick with the quintet and sextet albums from this period. Sketches of Spain does feature Miles, but the real star of the album is the arranging.
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on December 29, 1999
This is truely a landmark of Jazz, blending classical Spanish Music with Jazz that equals a par excelance that is very rare indeed. This is a recording that both Jazz and Classical enthusiasts will enjoy listening to over and over again. Concierto de Aranjuez is a perfect beginning to this journey of emotion and color of sound. Miles doesn't try to drown out the sound of the Gil Evans orchestra with his trumpet, rather he blends wonderous sounds with it. Any Davis/Evans recording is worth acquiring, however if you had to choose just one, then this is the one to get.
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on February 4, 2002
Miles outdid himself with his decision to release "Kind Of Blue" and this album in succession. The concepts of both of these were great innovations of our century. With "Sketches Of Spain", the sounds of flamenco and of Joaquin Rodrigo's wonderful "Concierto De Aranjuez" among others, Miles showed the potential of the finely arranged orchestra accompanying one of the greatest improvisors of our time. Miles' phrasing alongside Gil Evans' poignant arrangements make this a must-have album for all music lovers.
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on November 7, 2003
When I was in college struggling to build a CD collection that would convince visitors to my room that I was cool, I got two Miles Davis albums that I thought made the best impression: Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain. Since then, I am thankfully much less concerned with what people think of me, I've listened to Kind of Blue hundreds of times, and Sketches of Spain...I'm not sure...maybe twenty times, and haven't had the urge to pick it off the shelf for the past two years. Why do I never feel like listening to it, even though the music was enjoyable?
I think I figured out the reason when I stumbled across the actual Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez on a CD of classical guitar pieces. It really is a beautiful piece. What surprised me was how similar it was to the version on Sketches of Spain. Miles's version was essentially the same piece arranged for jazz band: nothing particularly exciting was done to the music, and any changes in the harmony that took place with the transposition of instruments were, if anything, to the detriment of the music. There's a reason this piece was, after all, written for guitar.
The rest of the album-with the exception of Solea-gives me the same impression. It's a fan letter to Spain; it recreates their music without creating anything new or vital. I remember reading in the liner notes that the recording of this album was plagued with difficulties, because Miles kept showing up late to sessions without being adequately prepared. Now, I don't know how he acted during the sessions that created Kind of Blue, In a Silent Way, or Miles Smiles-but I have a feeling it wasn't like that. Those records bristle with enthusiasm and energy: everyone in them was fully committed to what was being done.
But I can sort of tell, when I listen to this, why Miles wasn't totally into Sketches of Spain. There's barely any room to breathe inside these arrangements-the improvisatory feel of the jazz that Miles was best at is gone. His freedom is basically limited to a few sections of primary melody, and that within an idiom of music that he isn't totally comfortable with. When you listen to this album, little phrases and melodies don't stick in your head the way they do with Kind of Blue; instead, what you come away with is a vaguely pleasant feeling.
What this is, then, is nice background music. And you can play great music for atmosphere, but if it's actually great, eventually it'll get your attention again and again and distract you from whatever it is you were doing. This one just plays until it's over and then goes back on the shelf, the same as those lame world music albums people get to "relax." Well, it's better than those. But still: only get this if you have the great Miles albums. I mentioned a few.
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on July 16, 2003
This album is very good, no doubt, but I only give it 4 stars when compared to many of his other albums.
Believe it or not, the 20 bit digital re-mastering stands out most for me. The sound quality is amazing. This cd sounds as if it was recorded yesterday.
However, as far as content goes, I think this cd is a bit over rated. First of all, this really isn't jazz (at least my definition of jazz anyway). Miles is brilliant, Gil Evans is brilliant, the band is brilliant, but this just isn't the type of jazz I like to listen to. Some people have classified this as "Jazzed-Up Spanish Classical," and I guess that works for me, because I really can't think of a better way to describe it.
I just prefer the quintent recordings between 1965-1968: 'Miles Smiles,' 'Sorcerer,' 'Nefertiti,' and 'ESP.' I also like 'Kind of Blue' (of course), 'Porgy & Bess' and many others way better than this. All of these albums are far more listenable, and contain the kind of jazz and the kind of Miles Davis music that I prefer.
Also, on this cd, there are 2 versions of 'Concierto De Aranjuez.' One track is the original cut. The other is an alternate take. Both are basically the same and play for about 16 minutes, but unfortunately, I really don't care that much for this track. So basically that amounts to 32 minutes worth of music that I could do without. Miles is great, but again, this just isn't the type of jazz or the Miles Davis kind-of-music that I like to listen to.
Bottome line:
Look somewhere else if you want to buy your first Miles Davis CD. Start with any of the cd's I mentioned above for a much better sample of his work.
However, with all that said, I still would consider this a "must have" CD for any true Miles Davis fan, and I do listen to this CD a lot even though my review is somewhat negative. Afterall, I did give this a 4 star rating, and that isn't that bad...
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on September 28, 2001
This brillant work of art is in my top five of all music ever created. It's absolute beaty haunts me in my daily life. When walking down the halls the tune of Concierto Aranjuez Adagio plays over and over in my head. A must buy!
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on October 21, 2002
This legendary album is a milestone in jazz, a disc where everthing seems to fit into the right place: great ensemble playing, a superb selection of music, and, most of all, the absolutely astounding soloing of Miles Davis. The most famous piece is the first, a version of the adagio from Joaquin Rodrigo's famous classical guitar concerto 'concierto de aranjuez', expanded by Davis' collaborator Gil Evans, one of the most important creative partnerships in jazz. It is a classic, a superb jazz treatment of a classical work, in both the original performance and the alternative version that is a bonus track on this issue, which to me, is even better-there is more depth of emotion (if such a thing is possible) than on the original, a rawness and passion. There is another classical work, 'Will o' the wisp' by Manuel de Falla, a shorter and less intense experience than the Rodrigo, with a different flavour-mysterious and with a sinister undertone. Listen out for the slinky, dark rhythms, and multicoloured orchestral pallette. Thirdly, we have a Spanish folk melody, 'The Pan Piper', that Evans heard a pig castrator play on a penny whistle! The unmistakable trumpet of Miles hovers over a static, glittering, orchestra. After that, an incredible emotional; display: 'Saeta'. This is a traditional Spanish proccession, in which a woman on a balcony tells of the story of Christ's death and ressurrection. Brass fanfares introduce Miles' solo, in which he plays the part of the woman with astounding concentration and display of raw emotion. Then, 'Solea' (coming from the word for loneliness) by Gil Evans. After a slow introduction, the rhythm picks up and we begin a march in which Davis, as the linter notes put it 'fervently links the cries of flamenco and blues'. Another bonus track, 'Song of our country', is in more of a South American than a Spanish vein.
What this disc captures so precisely, so movingly, so clearly, is the sadness that lies at the heart of what we think of as Spain, a sense of melancholy, of grief. The tone of Miles' trumpet, so brilliantly displayed in 'Porgy and Bess', reaches another stage here- he is given the space to make his own unique sound. If you buy no other jazz album, then this is the one to get.
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on June 22, 2001
This album exemplifies what an extraordinary gifted musician Miles Davis was and, for that matter, Gil Evans too.
Miles has always been the first to try on new things in the Jazz scene and with great success. He revolutionized the Cool, the Bebop and indeed later on the electronical Jazz in his own way and stands out as the best.
This, however, is not a Jazz album. In fact, it has nothing to do with Jazz. It is a collection of classical pieces, wonderfully orchestrated and very reluctant on the use of jazzy tunes or other modern influences.
It is a collection of shining brilliant, sometimes moody, tunes payed by a brilliant Miles. The album should not be compared to other Miles' work but taken on a stand alone basis and be enjoyed when you are in the mood for it.
For those who know the country Spain, it brings back memories of the many wonderful and special occassions one has enjoyed there. The use of Castillian and Flamenco elements will transfer you straight to a late night dinner on the beautiful coast or to the old treasures of Madrid.
Enjoy!
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on October 22, 2002
Miles' rendition of the Concierto de Aranjuez is one of the most, if not the most gourgeous song(s) I have ever heard. Obviously, it was Miles playing, but it is a new style. Some people, including the composer, J Rodrigo, do not like it, but it is a wonderful fusion of a neo-classical concerto with a more modern jazz feel. In fact, if only to hear this, the album would be worth it. The more defined Will O' The Wisp and Pan Piper create a nice contrast. Saeta is strikingly different. The marchlike style is in sharp contrast to most Miles, in fact. However, it is still very beautiful and the trumpet mechanics are second to none. The Soleta is a very beautiful, soleful piece that melds nicely with the Concierto. Song of Our Country is an interesting work. The rehersal take of the Concierto is strikingly beautiful. Some people consider this a strange, out-there album that is not Miles Davis. I feel that it just shows how unique Miles really was, and his legacy cannot be discussed without talking about Sketches of Spain. Many people love it, or just think it's plain weird. I encourage buying this album because of all the wonderful contrasts.
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HALL OF FAMEon February 18, 2001
Writing about "jazz" suffers from the breadth of definition of the word. Jazz performances range from the smoke-filled back street bar to vast concert halls. Those venues offer opportunity for highly innovative techniques suited to changing audiences through tightly structured presentations to black-tied audiences. Miles is nearly unique in his ability to reach across such varied scenarios, delivering stunning performances of universal appeal. Sketches of Spain is "listenable" in nearly any circumstance. The performance is stunning and almost unmatched by even the best of his other albums. Miles Davis brings a level of musical discipline rarely heard in jazz musicians. Every note on these pieces is precise, clearly chosen for its value to the total performance. Don't confuse precision with sterility, however. This music soars far too grandly to be listened to as a clinical exercise. Davis easily conveys the listener on tonal flights reflecting the vast scope of his talents. His range sweeps over us, making the performance seem extemporaneous, when in fact it resulted from intense effort to produce exactly the right sequence of phrases.
Davis' move into the classical shocked those who believed jazz as a special form of Americana. His choice of the Aranjuez, a deeply moving Spanish composition, is particularly suited to his talents. Davis performances may be called "brass blues" from his ability to "swing low" with his cornet. He achieves a phenomenal range with it, managing the feat without imparting the metallic overtones a trumpeter often conveys. He produces sounds with this instrument that can only be compared with the best of human voices. For example, listen to any of Montserrat Figueras' CDs for both the Spanish origins of this music and the purity of tone matched by Davis.
This early collaboration with Gil Evans eventually led Davis down a path some of couldn't follow. Sketches of Spain, however, is a masterpiece of Davis' best and under the still gently guiding hand of Evans. This is one of Davis monumental efforts, not requiring you to be an admirer of Davis or a jazz aficionado, but simply someone willing to be enthralled by fine music.
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