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Miles Davis- E.S.P. (1965)

Miles Davis- E.S.P


Recorded Jan 20- 22, 1965

Released August 16, 1965

Miles Davis is one of the most influential trumpeters, bandleaders, and composers in American History. Constantly searching for new sounds, Miles Davis changed the shape of jazz several times and was instrumental in the cool jazz, hard bop, and fusion movements. While he would develop into an international superstar, Miles Davis's earliest connection to jazz came as a bebop musician and as Gillespie's replacement in Charlie Parker's band.

Miles Davis’ Early Life

Born in Alton, Illinois, in 1926, Miles Dewey Davis' family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. His father, Miles Davis Sr., was a dentist, and his mother, Cleota Mae, was a music teacher. The family also owned a large and successful pig farm in Arkansas. Around nine, Miles Davis got his first trumpet, and he began taking lessons. As a youth, Davis' teacher, Elwood Buchanan, discouraged the use of vibrato and insisted that Miles play with a clear and unaffected tone centered in the trumpet's mid-range. In doing so, Davis developed his signature sound and approach.

By 1941, the Davis family had moved to St. Louis, and Miles began to play in his high school orchestra and marching band. He also began to take a serious interest in music theory, and he was developing quickly as a musician. While still in school, Davis played with several territory groups and absorbed everything the St. Louis jazz scene offered.

Miles Davis’ Early Career

After graduating high school in 1944, Davis spent part of his summer as a fill-in with the Billy Eckstine Orchestra. This group included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and drummer Art Blakey. Determined to get to New York, Davis began studying at the Juilliard School. While being given a classical education in the classroom, he became more interested in the New York jazz scene and spent most of his evenings jamming at Minton's and Monroe's in Harlem. After only three semesters at Julliard, Davis dropped out of the school and focussed on working as a jazz musician.

By 1945, Davis emerged as one of the top trumpeters on the New York scene. He began first by playing with musicians like Coleman Hawkins and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and even recorded as a leader with his own Miles Davis Sextet. When Dizzy Gillespie left Charlie Parker's Quintet in 1945, Miles Davis joined the group. The shift from Gillespie to Davis was surprising, especially since Davis' playing vastly differed from Gillespie's. Although Davis made significant attempts to match Gillespie's fiery style early on, he simply could not play with Gillespie's same technicality and range. To separate himself from Gillespie, Davis began to incorporate more space into his solos and focussed more on texture and tone than technicality. He also began to use a mute, which helped to give Davis a signature sound.

Miles Davis regularly worked with Parker over the next two years and was now further recognized for his unique sound and jazz approach. In 1947, Davis recorded again as a leader with the Miles Davis All-Stars. The recording is notable because it features some of Miles Davis' earliest compositions. Additionally, it is one of the few recordings showcasing Charlie Parker on the tenor sax.

By 1948, Davis was moving away from bop and began exploring the possibilities of playing in a more orchestrated jazz style known as "cool jazz.”

Miles Davis in the 1950s

In the early 1950s, Davis began struggling with heroin, and by 1953, he was completely strung out. His struggles were now publicly known as the trumpeter, and he was flirting with disaster. In response, he returned to his parent's home in St. Louis and quit heroin cold turkey. Physically and mentally stronger, Miles returned to New York and the jazz scene in 1954 and shifted his playing style to incorporate a greater use of space and direction. In July of 1955, Davis made one of the greatest public comebacks when he was showcased as a guest at the Newport Jazz Festival. He then formed his famed “first great quintet” with John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums). Although there were some lineup interruptions due to the group's drug use, the band performed and recorded classic albums between 1955 and 1959, and when not recording with the group, Miles was releasing more “cool” orchestrated works with arranger Gil Evans.

Miles Davis in the 1960s

In the early 1960s, Davis struggled to keep a steady roster. During the interim period between 1960-1963, Davis's group included saxophonists like Hank Mobley, George Coleman, pianist Wynton Kelly, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. By 1963- Miles Davis began forming a new, more youthful quintet. Joining the group in 1963 was 17-year-old drummer Tony Williams, 23-year-old pianist Herbie Hancock, and 26-year-old bassist Ron Carter. In 1964, 31-year-old Wayne Shorter solidified the lineup. This new lineup would remain intact till Miles shifted his direction to explore more electric music in 1969.

Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet

By the time the second great quintet began in 1964, Miles Davis was a seasoned veteran at 37 years old. The injection of more youthful players inspired Miles Davis, and together, the group developed a connectivity and style that explored elements of free jazz. This concept eliminated more restrictive playing. While there were more “free” elements associated with Miles's new direction, the trumpeter never fully accept free jazz and kept within the tradition of playing prepared tunes with defined chord structures, but they did so in a a way in which the rhythm section played with a certain rhythm elasticity that moved beyond the more formalized swing or bebop traditions. Another aspect of the band was that instead of presenting more standard materials, the group would present original works. Since Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter were all gifted writers by this time, the quintet had a wealth of material to draw from. In many cases, Miles would collaborate to help shape the compositions of his sideman. In their five years as a working unit, the second great quintet would reshape jazz.

About The Album

E.S.P. is significant because it is the first studio release of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, which signified a new, more modern direction for Miles after the breakup of Mile Davis’ first Great Quintet. Not everyone loved Miles New Direction- Famed trumpeter Kenny Dorham reviewed the album in the December 1965 issue DownBeat and commented: "Emotionally, as a whole, this one is lacking. It's mostly brain music... This type of music has that drone thing that I don't like, but because of the almost flawless presentation, I give five stars—but only four stars for the writing and effort—and no stars for the overall sound. E.S.P. music in general is monotonous—one long drone."

Another interesting note is that E.S.P. was recorded at Columbia's Hollywood Studios following a falling-out between Davis and Teo Macero after the release of Quiet Nights. It was the last album bearing a photo of Davis's then-wife Frances on the cover, as the couple would separate by the end of 1965. Miles was married three times,

Side 1

(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)

Track 1- “E.S.P.” is a 32-bar tune created by Wayne Shorter which includes, like many of Shorter's tunes, chord changes that were uncharacteristic of many of the standard jazz materials associated with show tunes or the “Great American” songbook. For Miles Davis, it is apparent within the first few seconds that the music on this record would be a radical change for the trumpeter. After the melody, Wayne Shorter launches into his solo. Noticeable against the improvisation is the fragmented chording by Herbie Hancock. Miles follows Shorter, and like much of his solos at the time, he takes risks, falters at times, and plays with a quality of tone that is unique to his sound. Unlike some of his other solos, E.S.P. is pretty note-heavy for the trumpeter. The rhythm section, at times, adds new dynamic energy against Miles’ solo. Hancock jumps in as a soloist next and matches the skills of Shorter and Miles. The main melodic line is somewhat abruptly reinstated to close out the work. (+)

Track 2- “Eight-One” is written by Ron Carter and seems to follow a similar writing style to that of Wayne Shorter’s at the time. The melody is somewhat spacious, with some specific hits. The groove has an underlying fragmented funk feel. Miles handles the first solo, and for a brief moment, the rhythm section seems to falter slightly before quickly getting it together. At one point, the group shifts from a more funky groove to a more traditional swing feel. Shorter counters as the rhythm section returns to the more funky feel, but as with Miles Davis' solo, they divert back to swing. Hancock then takes a brief solo before returning to the melody. (*)

Track 3- “Little One” comes from Herbie Hancock, and the song begins as a slow ballad with Shorter and Miles playing the melody. After the written melodic statement, Miles plays the solo as the band shifts to a more steady time feel. Davis shines on this ballad by giving space and importance to each phrase. Shorter is equally as brilliant on his solo. Hancock remains the third soloist, and he chooses to play in a more subtle fashion, which sets up the return to the more out-of-time melody. To close the piece, the band goes into a short rhythmic vamp before settling back down for the final statement between Davis and Shorter. “Little One” really sets a specific mood.

Track 4- “R.J.” is another piece by Carter with a somewhat angular melody that seems reminiscent of free jazz legend Ornette Coleman’s writing style. After the melody, the group breaks into a more uptempo swing, with Miles showcasing his chops. Shorter follows, and then Herbie is third in line once again. As always, all the soloist are fantastic at setting a mood and showcasing their distinct musical personalities.

Side 2

Track 1- “Agitation.”This is the only song fully credited to Miles Davis on the record. The track begins with a solo showcase for his young drummer, Tony Williams, whose style, even as a teen, is unique and innovative. After nearly 2:00 minutes, Miles enters with some counter melodies by Wayne Shorter, and then Miles launches into his solo. The rhythm section moves in and out of standard time and shifts the feel several times, a characteristic they would continue to develop and explore. Shorter then enters with his masterful solo. Once again, Hancock is the third man in line to solo. The rhythm section briefly drops after the solo, and Miles presents the melodic phrase. Ron Carter is then left alone for a short solo before the piece concludes. “Agitation” shows the group's tightrope walk between free jazz and more standard jazz expiration.

Track 2-” Iris” is a Wayne Shorter composition and is probably the most standard or conservative-sounding piece on the record. Still, in typical Shorter fashion, his writing includes unique and advanced chordal writing. Miles plays the first solo, Shorter solos next, and Herbie Hancock is next. Overall, it's a gorgeous presentation. (+)

Track 3- “Mood” is credited to Ron Carter and Miles Davis. The song begins with a slow, light, groove-based introduction by the rhythm section that is more connected to rock than swing. Davis would incorporate more rock elements into his music with this group with each subsequent album. Miles then floats on top of the groove and reaches into the higher end of his register. Shorter comes in with some short rhythmic counterstatements. At around the 3:30 second mark, Shorter takes the lead, and then, of course, Hancock follows. Each soloist is perfect in creating a soundscape against the somewhat repetitive groove, which creates a meditative state and an overall “mood.” (+)

In Conclusion

E.S.P is a critical release for Miles as it introduced the world to Miles Davis’ new direction and the possibilities of a rhythm section willing to explore and develop as a unit by challenging but not completely breaking from the standardized role of a jazz rhythm section. The record creates an overall mood and sense of exploration, which I believe is paramount to the success of a jazz record, especially one made during the mid-1960s.

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