Graham deigned not to set a theme for this week, so I turned to the literal pile of CDs that I’ve amassed on a shelf and mentally labelled as future contenders for Devon Record Club. And, as usual, I’ve picked out a record that I’ve written about before, way back when Stylus still existed. (To my amusement, my ruminations on this record, researched from a couple of books I had on Miles from the library, are now used as a source on producer Teo Macero’s Wikipedia page. Which just goes to prove the pointlessness of citations.)
Anyway. The Christmas holiday in my first year at university, and I decided to get into red wine and jazz. As you do. My dad shared a bottle of rioja that he’d received as a gift from a client with me, and my brother bought me Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis. Not a bad introduction to either. I delved further into Miles’ catalogue more quickly than I explored pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, though, eating up Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way first, as those seemed like the most exciting and essential jazz albums from Miles’ oeuvre for a young man to get to grips with.
But, whilst Bitches Brew can take some getting to grips with as you go about unravelling its immense tapestry of sound, rhythm, melody, and texture, In A Silent Way clicked with me straight away. Maybe it was the fact that I’d already digested a handful of CAN albums as a 17 year old? Or perhaps it’s just that this mesmerising, mellifluous amalgamation of electric pianos (two of them, and an organ on top), slinky bass grooves, insistent high-hats and insouciant, beatific, late night melancholy-and-cool-at-the-same-time trumpet and saxophone riffs is, purely and simply, an absolute pleasure?
I’ve never met anyone who knows In A Silent Way and didn’t love it. It occupies a similar territory to CAN’s Future Days and The Necks, and paved a trail that would be followed by a host of ambient musicians and other minimalists and experimentalists for years to come, as well as pioneering production techniques that only The Beatles had ventured towards previously, and which would soon become commonplace throughout pretty much all pop music.
I say it a lot in reference to the records I bring along to DRC, but In A Silent Way is one of my favourite records ever (I bring them because I love them dearly!). But what will Graham, Rob, and Tom make of it?
Tom listened: Well, Nick is being a little disingenuous there as he already knows what I think of it. For me, In A Silent Way is the best jazz record I have ever heard… by a long shot. But then, I’m not sure just how ‘jazz’ it is. This is something else, it exists in its own little group of one, a unique record that is a blissful meeting place of be-bop, fusion and african rhythms, loops, crazy organ sounds and a hypnotic groove that keeps you guessing right up until the last few minutes when Miles eventually lets rip in the (frankly orgasmic) kaleidoscope of sound that had been promised for the previous 35 minutes. This is not one of the best jazz records ever, it is one of the best records ever…and if you think you don’t like jazz and haven’t heard this, reserve judgment until you have!
Rob listened: Beautiful and timeless. I hadn’t heard it before, my Miles go from ‘Birth of the Cool’ to ‘Kind of Blue’ and then run out. I get Tom’s opint about this seeming to sit in a class of one. ‘In a Silent Way’ sounds like it’s always existed. To an extent it was unsurprising in that its moods, if not its moves, have been copped so many times since then that they have become part of the culture. It’s slightly disorienting then to face the facts that this sound, this approach, this type of record had to start somewhere, that this it where it DID start, and that, based on my scant experience, none of its celebrants, or imitators have come close to its accomplishment. It’s impossible to imagine anyone not loving it. But then, I have a limited imagination.
Graham Listened: Well I’m one of the people Tom points to in last sentence. Lets be clear here. I’m not about to grow a goatee, buy a beret and start attracting people’s attention by saying “hey Cat”, but I may just have been converted. Wonderful feeling of motion and groove. Need to tread carefully along this path to avoid falling back in to previous prejudiced view.