What can one say about creative genius? Yes, at times it’s messy and even excessive, but for the most part, creative geniuses come as close to perfection in their art as anyone is going to get.
Miles Davis was a creative musical genius who left an amazing legacy of jazz, funk, and experimental African rhythms in a career that spanned nearly half a century. He is probably best remembered for his forays into be-bop in the forties and early fifties and as the progenitor of cool jazz in the fifties and early sixties.
The list of musicians he worked with is as legendary as Davis himself, including John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and well, you get the idea. A number of Davis’ works from the fifties have recently been re-mastered and released, including the Walkin’ album from 1954. It features the all-star band of Jay Jay Johnson on trombone, Lucky Thompson on tenor sax, Dave Schildkraut on alto sax, Horace Silver on piano, Percy Heath on stand up bass, Kenny Clarke on drums, and Davis.
Walkin’ is an example of eminent bop and cool performance that could serve as a musical text on how jazz should be played. It’s a fairly early sample of Davis’ work. There is tremendously dynamic interplay between the musicians here as they are led by Davis, acting as the sly Pied Piper taking the group in a myriad of directions. There is always much delight to be found with great jazz, but with Walkin’, the craftsmanship is beyond description.
When you close your eyes and listen to Clarke’s subtle brushwork in tandem with Heath’s impeccable and lush strings, you feel transported into the middle of the kinetic energy that flows between them. The horn section teases and flirts with you on each track, bringing you intimately nearer and then shyly pushing you back. Silver provides ample fills with his gentle touch on the keyboard, his fingers casting wave after wave of spine-tingling notes.
The album was recorded in two sessions by the seminal Rudy Van Gelder at his studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. Van Gelder acts as professor here, rendering tutelage to this young, brash septet. Van Gelder consistently proves his ability to go with his instincts as he instructs this master’s class, being careful not to ruin their inspired musical flow.
The only drawback is that the recording experience seems a little dry. The jazz groove always improves with an audience. As good as this album is, I wonder what uncharted territories the band would’ve found under the screaming spots of some dingy Greenwich Village club.
There is enough brilliant material here to keep a jazz aficionado’s bloodstream crammed with endorphins. Davis and his group ascend to the apex of musicianship on Walkin’ and they put the word “genius” in a whole new category.