Miles Davis’s Landmark LP ‘Miles Ahead’: Enduring Fascination & Beauty

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I recently pulled out my new-ish audiophile copy of Miles Davis‘s great 1957 LP with the Gil Evans orchestra, Miles Ahead. I’ve listened to this album a zillion times, yet I hear something new almost each and every time I put it on the turntable. I’ve worn out an older copy of the LP, and now enjoy a great mono recording.

I know the work well, and have previously reminisced about when I first heard the album as well as its place as a fixture in my life—from my early lifeguard days to my post-college Paris interlude. The album was Davis’s first Columbia album with Gil Evans. He had recorded Birth of the Cool in 1949 with Evans for Capitol Records, a trendsetting album that helped launch cool jazz. This was his first major outing on Columbia.

Davis’s playing and the genius arrangements of Gil Evans combined in perfect musical synergy on this album. They knew and understood each other from their earlier collaboration on Birth of the Cool. Now they are back in the studio for a reunion, with Davis playing bewitching solos over the phenomenal musical bed that Evans provides: French horns, tubas, harps, strings—an utterly new sound that had originally intoxicated a young Miles Davis. There were also the great musicians assembled in the Gil Evans Orchestra, the creme-de-la-creme of the New York jazz scene.

Davis and Evans took their time on the album, which was a mix of jazz, originals, and popular classics. They recorded over a period of three and a half months (May 6, 1957 – August 22, 1957), a long time for a jazz record. Songs included the Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin classic “My Ship,” Ahmad Jamal’s “New Rhumba,” Bobby Troup’s “The Meaning of the Blues,” Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke,” and Léo Delibes’s “The Maids of Cadíz.”

r-2041629-1434078422-1369-jpegI think everyone should have this album—you don’t need to love jazz to enjoy it. Of course, I would recommend getting the LP, especially the 180 gram audiophile version in the original mono.  You can find it at online stores such as Music Direct.  The great sound that Columbia engineers got on these early mono recordings done at the CBS 30th Street studio is an aural dream. It also had liner notes by France’s veteran jazz journalist André Hodeir; Miles was known and loved in Paris ever since he first performed there in the late 1940’s. Producer George Avakian wrote the liner notes as well.  Reading liner notes on vinyl jackets is an old-school source of pleasure.

In case you follow my advice to immediately get this album (for yourself or as a holiday gift), don’t be confused by the two different album covers that you’ll find. The original yacht cover is illustrated above. When the album first came out, Miles hated it and the label complied with a new cover, which you see at right. The audiophile LP, should you choose to splurge for it, has the original yacht photograph.

To the Rhythm Planet fans who have read my previous paean to this timeless album, please forgive me for yet another praise session for this record. It is so wonderful, pure genius, that you can rediscover it over and over with that first-love feeling.

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