Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Sunday Record: "In a Silent Way" by Miles Davis

I could never look this cool in a turtleneck.  But if I'm being honest, I could never look as cool as Miles Davis in anything.

Album: In a Silent Way
Artist: Miles Davis
Year of Release: 1969

I tell my friends all the time that I don't know shit about wine.  I mean, I know I like the taste of reds.  I know also that I really couldn't taste the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet.  I know that when my friend Zenie attempted to explain to me what "legs" are in reference to wine, I could see what she was looking at but couldn't explain why what I was seeing was significant.  I know I like to drink.  In short, I'm just another enthusiastic drinker who isn't armed with all the facts.  Luckily in our society, I am in the majority.

And so it goes with jazz.  I don't know shit about jazz other than that I know I love to listen to Miles Davis and I know his work sounds amazing.  Critics, musicians, and scholars have researched his work and his genius to a level I'm sure I have no interest in matching, so I'll keep the "academic analysis" out of this space.  After several glasses of wine last night (though I'm relatively hangover free today), something about Miles Davis sounded perfect for this morning and I ended up choosing In a Silent Way.  Let's quickly break down the album.  There are three, count'em THREE tracks on this album:

Side A: "Shhh/Peaceful
Side B: "In a Silent Way
            "It's About That Time"

Side A is about eighteen minutes and Side B is about twenty minutes.  "Shhh/Peaceful" is an ambient mix of trumpet, organ, electric guitar, electric piano with a two-note bass line that goes on throughout (you'll hear the exact same bass line in a large portion of the Smashing Pumpkins space rock epic track "Silverfuck" from Siamese Dream).  It is frenetic, but never too rushed or too loud.  Listening to it, I get the sensation of flying over a city at night while still having the ability to observe the full scope of human activity--the hustle and bustle, the daily movement caused by commerce, etc.  Did that last sentence sound way too much like a York Peppermint Patty commercial or what?  "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time" starts with a slow burning swell of electric guitar and trumpet noise.  I read an interview once where Radiohead said that they listened to a lot of Miles Davis while recording OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac.  Listening to In a Silent Way over and over, the influence of Davis on much of the fusion and guitar atmospherics of Radiohead's late 90's/early 2000's work becomes apparent.  The aforementioned slow burn sounds like a grandfather of thought to the Kid A track "Treefingers" and the influence of Davis' jazz fusion output can seemingly be found  in "The National Anthem" as well.  The remainder of Side B is a gorgeous ensemble of electric heat combined with brass and piano skill in an almost symbiotic meeting of the minds--which then concludes with the same slow burn found at the beginning of the piece.  With no lyrics to attempt to assign meaning to and no vocalist to critique, the listener is left with only his or her impressions on an emotional, audio-influenced level.  I'm struck by how much of what I hear sounds like the musical arsenal so many of my favorite artists fight with today.

In a Silent Way was Miles Davis' first major foray into jazz fusion.  Jazz and rock 'n' roll had maintained a largely segregated existence until the late 1960's.  But by finding a way to take the genius of each genre and combine them in a singular effort, the sound of music was changed henceforth.  That sounds epic and shit, eh?  Well, I guess it is.  Music like this found a new "way" forward--silent or not.  And on Sunday, it's proper to rejoice in whatever most inspires you, right?

The Non-Rob Review: All Music Guide


  1. I was always a big "Kind of Blue" fan myself.

  2. Brian, "Kind of Blue" is probably my absolute favorite and I have that one thick, 200 gram vinyl as well. If there's a genre where vinyl makes a big difference, I do believe it's jazz. It sounds AMAZING.

  3. I need to give this one a listen. I've heard Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew and a few others, but I've found that knowing very little about jazz makes his catalog a little intimidating.