In honor of the man who turned me on to jazz (though one could argue that title actually belongs to John McLaughlin), I thought I would share with you my “Top 5 Miles Davis Albums”. Please, give them a listen, who knows, you might find yourself liking jazz, too.
5. Live-Evil (1971)
While I would actually point you to the “Cellar Door Sessions” box-set, I realize that not everyone has the patience to take in six discs. Live-Evil is the best bits of The Cellar Door exercises. The team includes Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Wayne Shorter, and Keith Jarrett among others. Imagine those minds coming together for this beast of an improv session.
Stand-out track: “What I Say”
4. Bitches Brew (1970)
I am a sucker for longer, extended cuts; if it’s a jam session, then even more so. “Jazz-fusion” and “free jazz” are my favorites among the sub-genres of jazz, and this album might be one of the best fusion pieces ever (definitely the best collective group of fusioin artists to appear on one album).
Stand-out track: “Bitches Brew”
3. In A Silent Way (1969)
Miles goes electric… kind of. While more electric and showing signs of his future dive into “fusion”, this album is far from the “crazy” label that comes with most fusion LPs. This two track, double sonata offering is concise while still being playful enough to explore some very Davis-inspired riffs.
Stand-out track: “Shhh/Peaceful”
2. Kind of Blue (1959)
The classics of classics. The holiest of the holy… and still only #2 on my list. While it was hard to place at #2, it in no way detracts from the legacy that this going-on-60-year-old album has made for itself. Every track is amazing and without “Kind of Blue” your jazz collection is a sham, your definition of Miles Davis inaccurate, and your very understanding of music probably a hoax.
Stand-out track: “All Blues” (apologies to the other 4 tracks, this was the hardest choice of the entire list)
1. Sketches of Spain (1960)
If Miles had not recorded another note after “Kind of Blue” his legacy would still be incredible and he’d still have a shot at the Mount Rushmore of Jazz. So how would most artists follow up a quintessential classic? Most fall on their faces or release a “decent attempt”, but very few can not only prove that their masterpiece was not a fluke, but just the BEGINNING! Sketches of Spain, while not a experimental or Davis-controlled as other LPs, is just perfectly played music. if you cannot get into this album, then jazz is not for you… and maybe music all together is not your thing.
Stand-out track: “Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)”
So there you have it, my favorites of Miles Davis, the would-be 89 year old who changed music as a whole. His influence is immeasurable at this point, but if you want to see where he was headed towards the end of his life (and you are feeling daring), try the “late years” Miles. Hip-hop may have had an entirely different sound had Miles been able to stick around another decade.
***Writer’s confession: My love of “Sketches of Spain” runs so deep because “Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)” is my personal relaxation song. Whenever I feel down, anxious, or in need of some alone time, I play this movement. I love that song, plain and simple.***