miles’ basement tapes (listening, day 5 – part 1)

When it came out several years ago, I was shocked by the mixed reviews Miles’ Complete In A Silent Way Sessions got.

Though generally positive, a lot of reviewers found large parts of the music rambling and vague.

I disagreed then and disagree now.

The three cd box covers a concentrated period leading up to the release of In A Silent Way. It’s after the second great quintet has ended, and the music is much less abstracted. You can hear soul jazz and r & b and a little rock.

But as always, those influences are fed through Miles, who produces something vastly unlike say, “The Sidewinder” or a Ramsey Lewis album.

To me, this is a very specific album, specific to the times, (just before the 60s curdled) and specific to Miles.

The 60s first: more than most, this music evokes certain moods and images. It is distinctly a summer album, and the music is from the late afternoon, early evening. (In A Silent Way itself, in finished form, would be for later that same night.) It is, unlike most of what Miles recorded, outdoors music. There is space in the music, but it’s not spacey, as in no self-conscious psychedelica. There is a sense of things continually getting better (‘Yes, it is a fine afternoon to be playing’) that never approaches the edge.  It’s optimistic, alert music.

Miles: It jumped out at me this first time I heard this – it’s Miles’ Basement Tapes. As John Wesley Harding was Dylan’s stripped way down in words and music moment, IASW was for Miles. And just as Dylan preceeded JWH with a joyous rediscovery of American vernacular music, Miles preceeded IASW with a similar trip through the wires of what was on the radio. Both found what they were looking for.

Anyway, some people will tell you the Complete is for, uhhh, completists only. Don’t believe it. The album, accidental though it is (Miles never intended most of this to see the light of day), is essential and very, very listenable. Get it before the weather turns.

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