When I opened up the Cellar Door boxset, out fluttered a little insert of “The Top 10 Must Have CDs of Miles Davis.” So as I now pull on an Amber Bock and listen to said box, I’d like to comment on the list in chronological order, just to see if I agree with the Columbia marketing guild, birthplace of the Informative Yellow Sticker.
’Round About Midnight - Yeah, “All of You”, “Blackbird”, “Stockholm”, and the title track are pretty darn good. The question is if Milestones should be in this album’s place. I’d have to flip a coin.
Kind of Blue - I glossed over KOB on the Miles and Trane review page, so let me say I think it deserves all the hype. I worked in a record store for a couple of years, and while certain pop titles had more amazing sales spurts, Kind of Blue was the most consistent seller in any genre that I can recall. If I were to be cynical, I’d wonder how many of the folks who bought it bothered to check out Miles’ other titles. But in the face of all the Top 40 twaddle whose glory lasted for a week or two, it was nice to see this CD moving regularly.
In the momentary process of jazz, you will very rarely find anything that’s “perfect,” i.e., no bad notes, no miscommunication, no lost opportunities. I’ve only heard a few recordings that seemed like every note was considered long beforehand and etched with certainty. Who knows how many things had to be aligned for it to happen, but Kind of Blue is one of those near perfect records.
Sketches of Spain - Some of my friends got into this record a lot quicker than I did, and I still remain standoffish to some degree. Just on general recommendation, I’d pick Porgy and Bess out of the Miles/Gil trilogy. I mean, with “Prayer” and “Summertime” alone, that’s hard to argue with. But Spain has its moments as well.
In Person - Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk - Yeah, they’re pimping the whole four-disc set from Miles’ “hardest swinging, most in the pocket group.” Bah. It doesn’t take more than one Blackhawk disc to realize that this quintet sounds like they’re “on the job” rather than reaching the pinnacle of whatever. For swing, give me Red Garland and Philly Joe any day. But just to show that I don’t actively dislike Kelly, Cobb, or Mobley, I’d recommend their studio record Someday My Prince Will Come to anybody. Although I don’t think it’d be a Top 10 choice.
Miles Smiles - Hey, where’s Seven Steps to Heaven? Well, we’ve shot ahead to the Great ‘60s Quintet, and each and every one of their albums is worth owning. (In fact, I think the complete box is most essential.) Nefertiti is more satisfying to me overall, but I can’t complain about Miles Smiles a bit.
Miles in the Sky - More from the Super Amazing Quintet. Now, this album has never been feted as anything - in fact, it’s the one quintet record that’s always gotten critical caveats - and here’s Columbia deciding that it’s a Top 10 Miles album. Shit, I’m not going to argue with that. It’s got “Paraphernalia” and “Country Son”. Plus a couple of other decent tracks. A “jazz funk rock hybrid” says the blurb; well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In a Silent Way - Yes, a totally one of a kind album.
Bitches Brew - I must say I barely liked any of this one until the 1998 box came out and cleaned up the mix. I got to hear the music for the first time and grew quite fond of most of it. Definitely a Top 10, as long as we are in the district of Columbia.
A Tribute to Jack Johnson - A lot of Miles’ other fusion work has an appealing vagueness, but Jack Johnson does not mess around. It’s lean and confident. I think it’s the strongest electric Miles available. Or is that the Amber Bock talking?
On the Corner - Now they’re getting greedy. On the Corner is a specialty item no matter how you cut it. It will appeal to certain listeners of certain experiences, and I am/was one of them, but there’s no way I’d hand it to just anybody and say “dig in.” It’s not representative of anything. Neither is Silent Way, but the music on that is far more together. Let’s read the blurb: “perhaps the nastiest, streetiest, most in your face ‘jazz’ album of all time.” Oh, please. Then they mention Sly Stone, James Brown, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Hooray!
My list of the 10 most essential Miles albums (on Columbia) would look like this:
’Round About Midnight (why not)