The second album I am imagining an early 60’s college student would have would be the 1960 collaboration between Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Sketches of Spain. If the Goldberg Variations was to show our student to be intellectual and enraptured by music, Sketches of Spain was to give a sense of the exotic and even set a romantic mood. I imagine young fellas in the dormitory trying to set a mood with this album while they chatted up a young lady. Again, I could be way off base, but Sketches of Spain is nonetheless a fantastic album.
This was the third collaboration between Evans and Davis, and the two earlier albums (Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess) were masterpieces in their own right. This time around, they had not really set out to make an album of all Spanish music. The inception of this project started with the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, a spanish guitar concerto. Someone gave Miles a copy of a recording of the Rodrigo work, and Gil Evans arranged the slow movement for Miles on trumpet and a large jazz ensemble. Evans was a brilliant jazz composer and arranger. In this case, there was no written score for Gil to use in making his arrangement. He took all the music straight off the record, and then reworked it for his jazz group with Miles in mind as the soloist. Miles had a unique, personal tone on trumpet that was cool, stark and without vibrato. This tone lent itself to ballads full of bare and raw emotion, and fit in with the slow movement of Concierto de Aranjuez in a way that no one else could have done.
Listen to Miles play My Funny Valentine in a live concert from 1964. His tone embodies the pleading, yearning, longing, pining, tortured and bittersweet emotion of a lover just out of reach. Stay little Valentine, stay. The moment when the band comes in at about 2:56 in the track just floors me every time.
By the time Evans and Davis had worked out the Concierto de Aranjuez movement, they had listened to a great deal of other Spanish folk music and the album project grew to be entirely of Spanish themed material. Sketches of Spain is a double masterpiece, of both Davis on the solo trumpet parts and the genius of Evans’ arrangements. There is less improvisation on this album than any other record by Miles Davis, but every note is still infused with the personal phrasing and inflection of Davis. The music becomes entirely his own, and in fact, I would not hold this record out to be an authentic representation of Spanish music.
Turn down the lights, maybe find a glass of your favorite beverage, and spend 40 minutes listening to the entire album. Concierto de Aranjuez is the first track you hear.
Miles responded in his typical curt fashion to criticism that the album wasn’t really jazz.
He said to Rolling Stone magazine:
“It’s music, and I like it”.
I think that just about sums up everything that my notion of Good Music is and what this blog has tried to be about from the beginning.
Next up: The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out