🎶 Pick a Dozen Your Favorite Miles Davis Albums

Highlighting the Pick a Dozen series

Rudy

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"Pick a Dozen" isn't just limited to songs. For an artist with dozens of albums, it's no stretch of the imagination to consider we could pick a dozen favorite albums out of those.

Miles Davis had a lot of albums. The bulk were studio recordings. Many were epic live recordings. There are releases that came posthumously, and box sets that include complete sessions from key albums. (The only place I would draw the line is at a mega box set like the Complete Columbia set that included all of Miles' Columbia albums.) All here are fair game for this list as everyone approaches Miles a different way.

I'll list mine, with a description of what I like about them. No particular order. Just how they come to me.

  1. Milestones -- I'm no fan of bebop, so few of the early Miles albums appeal to me. But this one has a special swinging quality to it which makes it a fun listen. Miles was starting to stretch beyond his bebop roots and this album starts with tentative toe-dipping into blues and modality. The title track and "Two Bass Hit" are my favorites here.
  2. Birth of the Cool -- Originally released as a series of 78 RPM records recorded in 1949 and 1950, this featured a groundbreaking nonet of what would be come major jazz all-stars, and also spawn the "west coast cool" style of jazz. While as of late I have not been all that fond of the work of Gil Evans (I find many of his works to be too tedious of a listen these days), this one works quite well.
  3. Kind of Blue -- It's almost a cliche to mention this album as The Greatest Jazz Album of All Time, or suggest every jazz lover should have it in their collection. Yet I find I often return to it again and again over the years--the high praise is properly bestowed upon this record. It is peaceful, calming album, one I can rely on to evoke a certain mood whenever I play it. Heavily based on modal themes, and featuring the work of Bill Evans on all but one track, it's certainly the highlight of Miles' entire catalog in my collection.
  4. A Tribute to Jack Johnson -- Coming after the pivotal Bitches Brew, this one finds Miles tackling rock and roll head-on, each side of the LP being one long track. You would think after almost 27 minutes that Side 1, "Right Off," would run out of things to say, but the heat keeps turning up higher and higher with each passing minute. The legendary "story" in the liner notes is a bit of an exaggeration, as the two tracks on the record were assembled by Teo Macero from four sessions recorded early in 1970. With "Right Off," John McLaughlin provides the fire, and Herbie Hancock hopping onto a Farfisa found in the studio tosses gasoline onto the flames, with Billy Cobham propelling it through to the end. This group, on record, outplayed most rock bands back in the day. Pure energy! A "Complete" box set of this albums' sessions is available, interesting listening for those who want to hear the original sessions from which this album was patched together from.
  5. In A Silent Way -- Another cliche album, yet again it lives up to its hype. I've always thought of it as a mood piece. It wasn't as different as Bitches Brew, but it was a stepping stone to that pivotal album. Like many Miles albums from this era, there are a few edits throughout, including reprising the introduction of "Shhh/Peaceful" towards the end of that track. Both tracks evolve throughout their length, so there's no loss of interest here. It is this way with many of Miles' albums from this era--you continue listening since you expect something will happen...and it does.
  6. Bitches Brew -- I had a difficult history with this album, as the first few versions I purchased never sounded all that good. Turns out that's inherent in this album, and that stuffy, vague sound will never totally go away. Some recent versions have more clarity, making it easier to hear what is happening in the murk. This isn't an album you'll put on right away and instantly "get." It may take a handful, if not dozens, of listings before you totally understand what is happening here. This was the pivotal album in the jazz fusion movement, the one that really separated the stuffy jazz purists from the forward thinkers who embraced the fusion of jazz and rock. I've grown to like it, and am fond of a bonus track from one of the reissues, "Feio," as it fits into the same mood. There is a "Complete" release of the sessions, spread across four CDs and 21 tracks; fascinating if you want to hear the tunes before Teo Macero's sloppy editing formed the album into its final format.
  7. On The Corner -- If the Jack Johnson album was a full-on attack of rock, this album similarly fused disparate styles--jazz. funk and soul--like no other. Probably Miles' funkiest recording, again with an all-star cast including multiple drum kits, sitar (courtesy of Oregon's Colin Walcott!), John McLaughlin on guitar, and plenty of others. It's also not an easy listen, but has multiple layers moving beneath each other.
  8. Tutu -- The latter day recordings of Miles on Columbia cast him in a pop/jazz context. While Miles liked the melodies, the albums were rather lightweight. On a new label, Warner Bros., Miles teamed up with bassist and composer Marcus Miller for a set of new songs that each break new ground, and Miles invests more into his horn playing here. I played the heck out of this album when it was first released and it remains a favorite today.
  9. Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974 -- This posthumous was controversial in the Miles canon. Purists were screaming about Miles' works being desecrated. But they failed to see the irony in their childish rants: Teo Macero edited together many of Miles' albums, even rather sloppily at times, so those original albums themselves were assemblages of existing sessions hastily patched together. Panthalassa does much the same, only this time it's Bill Laswell remixing the tunes from their original multitrack sources, adding new parts from elsewhere on the studio multitracks, and recombining them in new ways. Laswell pulled material from In A Silent Way, On The Corner and Get Up With It, even uncovering an unreleased track in the process. It wasn't a pointless exercise either, in my opinion--Laswell's edits make the tunes, assembled as suites, flow together nicely. It is like viewing the music from a new angle and, as presented, it is a nice option to have on hand.
  10. Doo-Bop -- This album was the result of a failed release, Rubberband, which Miles had recorded as his third album for Warner but was subsequently rejected. Miles teamed with producer Easy Mo Bee, Miles recorded a handful of tracks before his passing, with the final two ("Fantasy" and "High Speed Chase") composed posthumously using solo snippets from the shelved Rubberband. It was pretty much critically panned when it was released, yet I heard this album and Herb Alpert's North on South St. which essentially take similar paths, melding street rhythms to jazz horn. Doo-Bop isn't Miles' best work, but on the other hand, I still enjoy playing this one, enjoying the grooves behind the music as much as Miles' left-of-center soloing.
  11. Seven Steps to Heaven -- This was an album recorded about the time Miles began building his second great quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Ron Carter on board. The title tune was a mainstay on local jazz radio and for that, I have really enjoyed this album over the years.
  12. Aura -- An unusual pick. It was Miles' last recording for Columbia, recorded in 1985 but not released until 1989 where he'd already released Tutu for Warner. This was an orchestrated recording, with Danish flugelhornist/arranger Palle Mikkelborg creating the backdrop over which Miles would perform. Each track was named after a color in the spectrum, a series of "moods" to make up the album.
List your favorites, if you wish!
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
In chronological order:
  1. Steamin' ('56)
  2. Workin' ('56)
  3. Cookin' ('56)
  4. Relaxin' ('56)
    1. In some ways, it doesn't get any better than this. There is nothing pretentious about these recordings. In fact, these are some of the most genuine, from-the-heart, musical art you'll ever hear.
    2. This group of four (w/Trane) were the Holy Grail for those of us back in the early/mid '80s who wanted to play in a group but had zero interest in fusion: it was like we discovered a new kind of music that no one else was listening to as everyone was playing rock and funk fusion and here we are right out of the mid 1950s! Great times, man and these 4 LPs were ground zero for about a dozen of us music students at the time. (I recall my trumpet prof candidly asking me and another guy in our group what the rub was with our fascination with "all that old 1950s music...".)
  5. Milestones ('58)
    1. The last LP with Red and the 1st with Cannonball.
  6. '58 Miles
    1. The only other Bill Evans-era MDQ that I know of... (This is a "comp" so to speak, issued in 1974).
  7. Kind Of Blue ('59)
    1. The one and only. With Red out and Bill in, the MDQ is nearly unrecognizable compared to the previous LPs.
  8. ESP ('65)
  9. Miles Smiles ('66)
  10. Nefertiti ('67)
  11. Miles In The Sky ('68)
    1. The 2nd great MDQ with the amazing Wayne Shorter spearheading writing and arranging for the group.
  12. In A Silent Way ('69)
    1. This is that "music" Herbie was talking about back in '68 when he said it's a place somewhere between jazz and rock. What Miles and his band have created here is beyond words -- other than to say it's an experimental work that involved Teo's post-production techniques as much as anything else; and in my opinion, the outtakes match the artistic level of the LP as released.
 

Rudy

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This is that "music" Herbie was talking about back in '68 when he said it's a place somewhere between jazz and rock. What Miles and his band have created here is beyond words -- other than to say it's an experimental work that involved Teo's post-production techniques as much as anything else; and in my opinion, the outtakes match the artistic level of the LP as released.
The "Complete" box sets of these albums are a treasure trove. For something like the Jack Johnson album, too, the individual sessions and takes that the finished tunes are built from are worth hearing as standalone pieces. (And it debunks the story of how the album was recorded on the spot, such as Miles and Herbie hopping into the studio on the run to play on the track just in time.) These sets are a bit different from other recordings where the mega sets include one record containing the original album and another two or three albums' worth of discarded takes, which is often boring. The patchwork production of Teo Macero almost makes the Miles "Complete" sets essential in comparison--we've heard these sessions assembled into other tunes in whole or in part.

One thing that has bothered me is the addition of the alternate take of "Flamenco Sketches" that sometimes accompanies the reissues of Kind of Blue. I can see why Miles did another take--his opening solo sets the mood much better in the version we are accustomed to. It also uses the same riff as Bill Evans' "Peace Piece."

I'm spinning the Mobile Fidelity 45 RPM cut of Kind of Blue right now. Perfect night for it. I've always felt it was a winter album, something best played after dark in quieter moments. That's how I first heard it, in fact. It was very early in the CD era, probably the winter of 1983 or so, and I'd not yet expanded into Miles (although local radio was playing Miles' "Shout" from his 1981 comeback album The Man with The Horn). Since the used record store had a good used vinyl copy, I grabbed it to see if I'd like it. A few listens in the dark winter evenings and I was hooked.

The first time I heard a CD played was over our local rock station, WRIF. For that presentation, they turned off all of the limiters and processors they normally put in the path. And one of the tracks they played from one of the first CDs ever released was "Shout" from that 1981 album.
 

JOv2

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That's how I first heard it, in fact. It was very early in the CD era, probably the winter of 1983 or so,
Kind of Blue was my first CD. I still have it -- it was the "manufactured by CBS Japan" issue. I paid about round about $12 for it at the same time. Although I wouldn't own a CD player until 1986, I was eager to embrace the new technology (as I HAD IT with all that hit-and-miss garbage vinyl that ensued with the melt-down days of the early '70s).
 

Rudy

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I have to say my 70s reissue Kind of Blue was actually pretty good, although it had a bit more tape hiss than I've heard on recent releases. I'd certainly had far worse, especially anything from MCA or Motown/Tamla!
 

Rudy

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Nine more to go..."Pick A Dozen." 😁
 

AM Matt

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"Kind Of Blue" (on single remastered CD), "Sketches Of Spain" (remastered CD), "Bitches Brew" (remastered CD), "Love Songs" (compilation) & "Doo Bop" but that is it.
 

rbisherw

Well-Known Member
Someday My Prince Will Come

In a Silent Way

Jack Johnson

Get Up with It

Bitches Brew

Sketches

Freedom Jazz Dance- Box (can I get away with choosing a box?)

Big Fun

Kind of Blue

Aura

Milestones

My Funny Valentine
 
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