– Kirsten Adams. Above: Miles Davis depicted in graffiti art.
A walking bass that leaves the sonic footprints for you to follow through smoky and ambient jazz composition. Smooth trumpet soaring on revolutionary modal lines over simple and steady rhythms and consistent harmonic progression. Even in trumpet cadenzas, you are caressed by brushed drums. Trumpeter Miles Davis’ legendary Kind of Blue (1959) album is 46 minutes of cool modal revelation for your winter lockdown.
The cool ambient sounds you encounter are not only owed to the band – tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and trumpeter Miles Davis himself (NPR), with Wynton Kelly stepping in as pianist for “Freddie Freeloader” (BBC) – but also ultimately to the choice that Miles made to assemble these specific cool jazz gems.
By combining Coltrane’s expressionist ideals and Adderly’s formalist ideals (New York Times), Miles could skillfully form on his trumpet the album that would define cool jazz for millenia.
Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album. Photo: Spotify.
Miles claims to have achieved this global musical milestone by “[listening] to what [he] can leave out”. And this law of subtraction has indeed worked.
Just two notes in its respective brass and saxophone harmonies can trigger the iconic identity of the album’s hit first track “So What” (see the live performance here). Then from a “bopping” walking bass to hazy and contemplative orchestration, “Blue in Green” stops the world for you to take the mid-album break, like it’s a lazy Wednesday that keeps its routine. An even steadier brushed snare drum, hushed piano and bass make a combination for your ears and your body to melt for a moment, before returning to the livelier “All Blue” and “Flamenco Sketches”.
There is something about the overall tone and tranquility that at no matter what pace each track identifies with, the album is most easily enjoyed in and complimenting to the spaces that one typically finds the most comfort during lockdown – at the fireplace, or as the rain is pouring beside your window in this South African winter.
The album surpasses time as Davis was ahead of his time with modal experimentation before Kind of Blue was even conceived. Hailed as “the jazz album that even non-jazz fans will own” (BBC), and ranked to this day as no.12 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the album is evidently timeless. The Kind of Blue legend of Miles Davis is to show that the jazz that can be claimed as “esoteric” is actually for everyone.