February 10, 2005

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Reissue)

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At this point in time, anything that I could say about Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue has been written before in vastly more creative approaches. So the prospect of reviewing the most discussed album in Jazz history has left me kind of, well … blue. It is extremely rare than an entire genre could get associated with one recording. But for most people, Kind of Blue is Jazz, and to discuss it feels like an attempted exegesis of the entire pantheon of the musical style.

As many know, music critics can be a pretentious bunch of pricks who find sexual satisfaction in discrediting albums that the ignorant laity have granted mythical status to. Depending on one’s degree of prickhood, any record is the equivalent of a baby seal dropped into a tank of sharks. Even “safe” recordings like Abbey Road and “Happy Birthday” are fair game.

Recently remastered and re-released (again), but this time with a supplemental DVD, Kind of Blue has amazingly avoided the dusty coating of anachronism, retaining a freshness and immediacy that is welcome in an age of predigested music.

It is the sound of genius. Davis assembled the single greatest compendium of musicians the world will probably never see again. The lineup is downright imposing — Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on percussion. And to think that the entire album is improvised! Davis never had the group rehearse, instead discussing basic themes and then unleashing their prodigious talents in a deluge of creative energy.

It is the sound of the city. A smoky haze moves over the rhythm of lights, bohemian conversations, transient acquaintances, trains and cabs, all dipped in an icy, laconic cool. Kind of Blue has the distinction of melding nuanced, layered complexity with an accessible and listenable aesthetic. One would be hard-pressed to find an album whose appeal has been more ubiquitous and traversed so many cultural and social divides.

The new DVD includes Made in Heaven, a short documentary that chronicles the making of Kind of Blue and its popular explosion upon impact. The film uses both archival sound bites and footage of Davis and his band members, interspersed with talking-head interviews, some of which shed light on the creative process — like those with Cobb, the only surviving band member — and some that are rather redundant. A photo gallery and audio outtakes from the master sessions accompany the film.

Although the point of this latest reissue would seem to be the accompanying film, those who already own a copy of the album may want to save their money, but for any novice, the record is invaluable.

5 Stars

Archived article by Zach Jones
Sun Arts & Entertainment Editor