The Upshot: Miles Davis’s tough yet humorous persona shines through on master takes, takes, and session reels. Listener are offered a front row seat to the long process of attempting a musical masterpiece.
BY ADOLF ALZUPHAR
Freedom Jazz Dance documents the Miles Davis Quintet’s studio takes, rehearsals, and talk that laid the foundation for Miles Smiles (1967) as well as later albums Nefertiti (also ’67) and Water Babies (1976). We hear Miles in his gravelly voice frequently turn to producer Teo Macero: “Let me hear that, Teo. F*ck!” It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s informative in understanding the process of making music, some of which is now considered classic.
Listeners should note that in Miles’ saying “that’s cuter than a motherfucker,” one is aural witness to “the cool.” That’s the cool that Lester Young spun from language like “you dig?” as well as general demeanor and hand gestures. Miles’ hip argot (“fire him a hamburger”) may tempt listeners to reduce the music simply to a dimension of the man’s persona, but this music is more than that. It’s full of conviction. What Miles’ Quintet is playing is American expression; it ventures beyond the cool into traditional tale telling with “The Gingerbread Boy,” and black history with “Nefertiti.” A track like “Orbits” is even harder to pin down, but it too is more than simply cool. Miles is informing the American soul – our very existence – through American style playing, as opposed to, for example, producing an impressionistic rendition of the Nefertiti as Debussy might have done.
Jokes notwithstanding, this quintet is a serious band, as were all of Miles’ groups. Here the lineup is Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter. To be sure, it was a different time, and the times have changed. Much of today’s music draws inspiration from more recent antecedents. Arguably Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 – even as a collection of material originally deemed unsuitable for release – is superior to much of what is new.
DOWNLOAD: “Fall – Master Take,” “Nefertiti – Master Take,” “Orbits – Master Take”