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Miles Davis – The Best Of Seven Steps

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If you want to find out how little you know about jazz, read the liner notes from a great jazz album like Miles Davis’s Seven Steps. Bob Blumenthal does an incredible job of taking you through the history of Miles Davis and the members of the quintet. He also details the mechanics and performance of each song with elegant descriptions like:

“A trademark touch begins the performance, as Carter walks “in two” behind the melody chorus; but once the trumpet solo starts, the rhythm section substitutes a charged, pointillistic approach in place of the familiar groove. Davis is coy and declarative by turns, sparring one by one with his accompanists before reaching a climax that bleeds into the start of Coleman’s solo. The rhythm locks down, providing a springboard for the saxophonist’s prodigious double-timing; then Hancock flies over the keyboard, adding complex colors and thick two-handed interaction that delivers a new kind of emotional escalation; and Carter adds a bowed bass solo highlighted by long melodic lines and precise intonation.”

[sigh]

These recordings were made after Davis’s first great ensemble dissolved in the late 50’s. This new line up was destined to become internationally famous in its own right, and Davis used the opportunity to play off the energy and enthusiasm of this group of younger musicians. A foursome who would soon become icons in the field of jazz for their incomparable musicianship, and their soulful brilliance.

The seven tracks on this CD span a two year period, and some lineup changes in the formation of Davis’s new band are to be expected. On the second track “I Fall In Love Too Easy” Frank Butler is on drums and Victor Felman on piano, but all the rest of the tracks feature the soft and intuitive style of Tony Williams on drums and the legendary Herbie Hancock on piano.

Herbie Hancock, what could I possible say about this amazing man. If you’ve heard him play, you just know. He’s not from this planet.

George Coleman soars on Tenor Sax through the first five tracks, but the final two live recordings (Japan and Germany) feature Sam Rivers and Wayne Shorter respectively, both masters of their craft, and particularly suited to the material they perform.

Throughout the seven numbers, the clarity, precision, and extreme finesse of bassist Ron Carter simply floored me. Endlessly clever and sexy runs that fill, support, and play off the racing scales and sublime croonings of Miles Davis on trumpet.

The set list:

Seven Steps To Heaven: A familiar number to me. Written only a month before this recording, it’s become a stone cold classic. Held together by Hancock’s piano rhythms, the trumpet soars and then backs off again, blends and plays with the sax, and then steps to the front again. One of my favorites.

I Fall In Love Too Early: Muted sax (I love muted sax), slow rhythmic pulsings that turn into a storm of high end solos. Great smoke-filled club jazz.

Autumn Leaves: See the above description by Bob Blumenthal (I won’t dispute his eloquence).

Stella By Starlight - Live at the NY Phiharmonic: Gentle piano, soft trumpet. The bass joins in and gradually the tune escalates its gentle meanderings, swinging into a casual groove as the audience sounds their appreciation. This is a very pleasant number, one of my favorites.

All Blues - Live at the NY Phiharmonic: This upbeat tune starts out with dueling sax and trumpet play, Hancock provides the back beat rhythm until the drums join in, then Davis’s trumpet flies around the room, taking seemingly random paths to unexpected scales and bursts of bended moanings. Perfectly delightful.

If I were A Bell - Live in Japan: A fun and playful number that gives Davis a chance to scat sing with his horn. Brilliant phrasings, blindingly fast vocalizations, giving Tony Williams a chance to stretch out and kick the pace forward. Sam Rivers steps to center stage and brings the audience into the show with a long and amazing solo, then Hancock and Williams jam together for a minute or two, just having fun playing together. Davis returns to the tune, gently slowing the pace. The song becomes moody and thoughtful, and winds to a graceful close.

Walkin’ - Live in Belin: This number is almost “Big Band” in its approach, but after a symphonic intro the pace smooths out, and Davis takes liberties to the delight of the audience. Off tempo, syncopated runs leading up to a short and tasty drum solo. Hancock sets the groove again, as Wayne Shorter squalls and bops his way through a masterful sax solo. The quintet recovers the feel, once again a unit – passing notes, smiles, and a love of their music back and forth, as we mortals can only listen and nod.

I like Jazz, but am far from being an expert, and couldn’t name half of the groups that I hear on NPR’s Jazz Till Midnight. This doesn’t bother me too much because I know what I like. I like news and weather in the morning, and classical music in the afternoon.

But in the evening, with the moon rising and the worries of the day put to bed, jazz rules at my house. This CD of Miles Davis has become a regular part of the mix that keeps my mood mellow, and my dreams sweet. These recordings are clear, quiet, and timeless.

Highly recommended.

Note: This was a single CD (best of), but there is a seven CD boxed set with everything Miles Davis recorded at Columbia. It’s on the way as I write.

Also posted at VERMONT SPACE
(Where tree frogs do uptempo solos.)

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About Bennett Dawson

  • SFC SKI

    Thanks for the review. I always approach jazz with a bit of trepidation, but Miles Daivs has always been someone I enjoy listening to, particularly Sketches of Spain.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    you like Sketches of Spain? i thought you hated (or just didn’t get) jazz.

    hmmm, a possible chink in the sfc ski jazz armor.

  • Vern Halen

    Miles’ ESP, Miles Smiles, etc. made with Wayne Shorter takling over the sax spot are also must have CDs if you like Kind of Blue & Seven Steps to Heaven. He made an awful lot of great & interesting music over his career, but these are the albums I always return to.

  • gonzo marx

    two words…

    Bitches Brew

    it’s sooOOOooOooo much fun to type that…heh

    ok..i tend to be more the be-bop type myself when it comes to jazz, Bird and Diz’s album “Now’s the Time” can usually scratch my “itch”..Bird dancing around the melody..implying it without actually hitting the notes…Diz washing soundscapes while the rhythym section is so in the pocket they have lint on their heads..

    good times…good times..

    in modern music my propesity for “the hard stuff” in jazz sttered me toward bands like Rush..Kim Thayal’s guitar work on “Bad Motorfinger” by Soundgarden…and of course…Tool

    but i digress…

    for sheer sonic Imagery by Miles…try Pangea..when he was asked how he knew it was “good enough” to be finished he stated “if it gets passed me, it’s good enough for you”

    humble he wasn’t…

    but he did give us a Perfect Definition when he said..

    “Music is the space between notes”

    nuff said?

    Excelsior!

  • Bennett

    Thanks SKI, This is a historic and enjoyable cd. Freaked me out to try and write about it however. Played bass, but not jazz, but had to give it a go. Ron Carter is one amazing player, all of the music on this disc is simply top notch.

    Hey Vern (love the moniker!), thanks for the suggestions. I’ll pick ‘em up on amazon, need to keep expanding the collection. I agree though, Wayne Shorter is fantastic, total commitment to every note he plays.

    Bennett

  • gonzo marx

    i knew there had to be a Reason to like you , Bennett..

    4 strings Rule!!

    Entwistle,Geddy Lee, Lemmy,and Les Claypool ..my personal Quatrain of Low Note deities..

    always classified mysefl as a “bass player” so as not to be confused with the higher LifeForm of a “musician” whose toes i am not even fit to lick..

    Excelsior!

  • Bennett

    gonzo, we rented a studio from Les in downtown Oakland, must have been ’87 or so. Then he hit it and my guitarist and I watched the kids moshing from the balcony of various venues (we were dinosaurs by that time).

    Looked like a tribal dance during the slow parts, then it looked like they were all on one of those ‘electric football’ tables during the fast parts… remember those? vibratin’ touchdown an all?

    Me not fit to lick too. Still, I had fun tho. I’ve got a long sleeve Primus t-shirt that has “Dog Will Hunt” down the length of one sleeve. Too cool!

    Yowza to the rest of your picks too. Pino Paladino should get mentioned, but I’ve only heard him playing Entwistle’s licks.

    Salut!

  • gonzo marx

    first saw Les at the Fast Lane in Asbury Park, NJ…was me, my wife, my drummer..the bartender, soundguy and a bouncer at exactly 8 pm..we wre there to see Bad Brains…

    lo and behold..at 8 on the nose..long before anyone woudl thik to start playing..this band named “Primus” came out..and started playing “YYZ” by Rush…dumped at the end of the third bar, and drove into “John the Fisherman”

    we were hooked..

    an awesome set later…Les was wandering around..bought him a beer and told him we liked the set..

    next was a year later..Sailing the Seas of Cheese was out, they opened for Fishbone at Rutger’s gymnasium…awesome show

    the best was seeing them open for Rush at Nassau Coliseum…who could ask for more?

    as for the Pit…i may be 43, but still was one of the last standing in the Pit at the Tool show in Augusta Maine last year..long after my younger companions had fled to the sidelines…

    but i digress…

    Excelsior!

  • Bennett

    Good times! He’s a nice guy, that Les. John the Fisherman…. Mano man, ‘…one of the fisherman of the sea…’ Hell of an intro to Primus, eh?

    Rush and Primus. No doubt.

    we wern’t really dinosaurs, but when one is 32, and the pit is 17, it kinda feels that way.

    Very good times.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Bennett, This work of yours now has another venue for success, glory and taking control of the world :-) – and many more eyes – at the Advance.net Web sites, a place affiliated with about 12 newspapers.

    One such site is here.

    Also please let your contact know, if you had one, that this article, is published at one more place. That helps a lot.

    Thank you.
    Temple Stark