Music Reviews

Sketches of Spain, by Miles Davis & Gil Evans

Sketches of Spain CoverSo you’re Miles Davis, and Kind of Blue (1959) just came out . . . .

Big deal, right?

Was yesterday.

What now?

Ever the nomad, Davis kept going, asking and answering questions with trumpet in hand, playing always.

Listening to the records bearing his name, it appears the guy had an ear out for all of it, all sound; what’s more, its potential, the wide-open road to catharsis paved by the fusion of players sounding a united call, their instruments harboring some mysterious freedom. Voices like wings.

When it came to style, Davis didn’t discriminate. Bop, be-bop, hard-bop, modal jazz, big band, fusion, European classical, and rock and roll to come—didn’t matter much, long as they, the players, were getting somewhere; long as the road held wide and bare. Just sound, some style, a little magic—a few fine seeds for a budding universe.

Davis blew through decades, each album plowing through the one came before it. New ways, more style, same road.

On the way, Sketches of Spain (1960) . . . . This album in Davis’ career takes place during a paradigm shift to the romantic, enduring sounds of the colorful country bearing its name.

Like Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain was recorded at Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City. Unlike Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain came to fruition via the collaborative efforts of arranger Gil Evans, and Davis, under the influence of a musical form differing from Kind of Blue’s characteristic modality, something called “Third Stream,” loosely defined as a fusion of classical and jazz styles with a dash of improvisation for added spice.

Sketches of Spain is not an original work so much as it is an original stamp on an original work. The famous concerto, on which the album hinges, the interminably beautiful “Concerto de Aranjuez,” was not written by Davis or Evans, but by the brilliant Spanish pianist, guitarist and composer, Joaquín Rodrigo.

Davis and Evans reformulated the piece as suited their own aestheticism. Davis contributed to the pastiche flugelhorn and trumpet (where was previously guitar in Rodrigo’s composition), while Evans gave to the project original fugues to help construct a record from under the concerto’s weighty influence; the confluence of both artist’s power infuses the core of Rodrigo’s classical European style with Davis’ red hot ear for the cool, quiet calm of a melody played with delicate poise, and Evans’ sense of musical space and sound connectivity.

That this album even became an album was somewhat of a surprise to Davis and Evans. Just think, the spark that ignited work on this project came of an infatuation solely with Rodrigo’s concerto. But time, hunger, drive and the inspirational work of Spanish folk musicians, set both Davis and Evans to work on this breezy masterpiece.

Here it is, perennially bright, garden of beauty in the groove, flowers under the needle: Sketches of Spain.

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