Sketches of Spain
[50th Anniversary Legacy Edition]
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2009, Volume 16, #6
Written by John Metzger
Mon June 29, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Most artists move through their careers in a fashion that is linear and predictable; Miles Davis, on the other hand, had a tendency to zigzag back and forth across space and time, so much so that although he always pushed his work forward, he also never failed to follow his share of divergent paths. The fact that he was so prolific further complicated the matter. The labels for which he worked occasionally issued his performances out of sequence, sometimes compiling leftover material from his recording sessions to create entirely new collections. The biggest factor of all, though, was Davis’ unwavering commitment to chasing his Muse, wherever it might lead.
Perhaps Davis was smart enough to know that, in the wake of Kind of Blue — his outing from 1959, which shattered the shackles that the jazz world had been placing upon itself for years — he needed to alter his course rather than merely replicate his groundbreaking success. Or maybe he was just hedging his bets, biding time until the liberation he had offered to his fellow musicians had a chance to infiltrate the industry, especially since he had lost several key members of his band. Whatever the reason happens to be, the fact remains that, within months of releasing Kind of Blue, Davis had rekindled his on-again, off-again collaborative partnership with composer and arranger Gil Evans. By this point, the duo had a decade-long history that had produced a series of resounding musical statements: Birth of the Cool, Miles Ahead, and Porgy and Bess. Each outing was better than its predecessor, too, and their next project, which became known as Sketches of Spain, eventually topped them all.
If tunes like Blues for Pablo and Flamenco Sketches— the former track appeared on Miles Ahead, while the latter one concluded Kind of Blue — pointed the way for Davis and Evans, then Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez provided them with an abundance of inspiration. Not surprisingly, Davis’ interpretation of Rodrigo’s composition served as the opening movement in Sketches of Spain’s overarching narrative. As such, it laid all of the groundwork for the outing’s remaining selections.
In crafting his arrangement of Concierto de Aranjuez, Evans combined a French horn with a woodwind section to re-create the song’s original symphonic architecture. In fact, throughout Sketches of Spain, the rest of which was penned by Evans, Davis is the only soloist. The rest of his ensemble — including drummer Jimmy Cobb and bass player Paul Chambers — merely followed the charts that Evans had provided. The result may have placed considerable restraints upon Davis’ rhythm section, but it nonetheless is a glorious meshing of jazz and classical styles that somehow manages to sound less stodgy than one might initially suspect.
Time and again, over the course of Sketches of Spain, Davis weaves graceful melodies through the heart of Evans’ orchestral atmospherics. There is a melancholy flavor to his tone, of course, but as his gentle phrases twist and turn with cinematic grandeur above the lush backdrops that emanate from the ensemble, they conjure worlds of subtle coloration. The textures behind him may shift — crossing from the querying give-and-take of The Pan Piper to the Arabic-tinged Saeta — but the consistency of Davis’ approach lends the collection a fully cohesive ambience. Kind of Blue revolved around its subject to create a series of impressionistic portraits, and Sketches of Spain largely followed suit, albeit in its own way. Indeed, the albums are nothing alike, yet paradoxically, they also seem to be viewing two sides of the same coin.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Sketches of Spain — the recording of the project began in 1959, though it wasn’t until the following year that the album actually was issued — Legacy Recordings has assembled yet another expanded edition of the endeavor. For the record, there is nothing on the latest incarnation of the set that is new. Every track on Sketches of Spain: 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition has found its way onto various reissues, boxed sets, and other sundry compilations of Davis’ work. When taken in full, however, the various bits and pieces that compose the newly minted collection provide an intriguing glimpse of how Davis’ infatuation with fusing Spanish styles, classical compositions, and blues-inflected jazz resulted in the masterful performances on Sketches of Spain.
Without a doubt, by 1959, the baton that repeatedly is passed from one generation to another already had been placed in Davis’ hands. Nevertheless, with the one-two punch of Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain, he showed how far he was willing to run with it.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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