Tuesday, November 23, 2010

356. Sketches of Spain- Bliss on vinyl.

Sketches of Spain
Artist: Miles Davis
Year: 1960
Genre: Jazz


  1. Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio)
  2. Will O' The Wisp (From "El Amor Brujo")
  3. The Pan Piper
  4. Saeta
  5. Solea

Sketches of Spain is an absolute, bone fide masterpiece from start to finish. It's one of the great works by a man who created buckets of greatness throughout his career. It's an album I turn to constantly whenever I feel the need to be completely absorbed by music. If I want to lie down and experience an album that has the power to overwhelm anything else in my life and take me to another place for a while it's often Sketches that I'll reach for. Miles Davis is one of the 20th centuries greatest musical talents and we should all take some time to revere him as the godlike figure he was.

Having said that it would be unfair to give the world's greatest jazz man full credit for this release. In fact it's not right to give Miles the entire credit for any of his masterworks. He was a great trumpeter, innovator and band leader but he was also amazingly good at finding and appreciating talent and bringing out the best in those around him. The list of people who played with Miles is a who's who of Jazz greats many of whom started out in his bands. On Sketches the man who deserves the accolades is Gil Evans, who was responsible for the arrangements. The pairing of Davis and Evans gave us many other great works but none with the power of Sketches.

The album opens with an interpretation of a piece of music that everyone now knows. It's called Concierto de Aranjuez and is instantly recognizeable as that piece that sounds like a mexican desert. It crops up often in movies, TV shows and advertisements representing a desolate wastelande in South America. You couldn't play it over the top of an arctic scene (it would baffle the penguins for a start, and you should never confuse a penguin- they prefer things black and white) but wack it over the top of sand and cactii and it fits. Aranujuez is a classical music piece that Miles heard it at a friend's house and brought back to Evans who loved it so much he decided to base an entire album around it. Evans found another Spanish sounding piece to round out side one and then wrote three more latiny tracks to make up a second side. The whole experience bleeds wonderful and is the sort of music that possesses the closest thing to universal appeal that 20th century music can acquire.

There are those purists who criticize Sketches as something other than Jazz. They prefer Miles when he stretches out and leaves the safety net of an arrangement behind. The idea of taking one of the greatest improvisers of all time and confining him to a score is sacralige to those who just love Miles when he lets the music move him. To a degree they may have a point. Sketches doesn't have the edge of Kind of Blue (or his later, much edgier work) and it may be pre-arranged Big band jazz but it's the greatest example of the genre there is. The first track really does give you tingles in the spine and Miles might be locked into a score but that doesn't mean his trumpet sounds confined or restricted. It's hard to define why one guy blowing raspberries into a bendy brass tube sounds better than another but there's no doubt Miles could play that thing.

There's nothing more to say really. It's greatness on a CD. Go out now and appreciate the greatness.

Highlight: Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio)
Lowlight: The rest of the album. It's still great but there's no doubt it's not as good as the opener.

Influenced by: Spain.
Influenced: Modern Jazz.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This reminds me of someone practising on trumpet. I couldn't stand it. This is dead. I can't believe anyone liked it."

-Someone practicing trumpet? How many people do you know who practice the trumpet with thirty other musicians?

So do you love Sketches of Spain or haven't you heard it yet? Let me know below.

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