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26 December 2011

Miles Davis - 'Sketches of Spain' (Columbia)

I've had this record for years but I never, ever listen to it. When I'm in the mood I pull out the other Miles Davis record I have, but today it's "hitting the spot".  You would think these Iberian-inspired melodies would conjure sun-parched images of Mediterranean cliffs and luscious scenery, but I'm staring out the window of a cold, grey day in Northern Europe and finding it equally beautiful as I stare at bare trees, pointing into a featureless wash of sky.  Davis's trumpet is of course the featured instrument, though he wrote none of the compositions.  It's mixed high over the session orchestra, and has a nice warm rolling momentum over the string washes.  The majority of the first side is a long piece by Joaquín Rodrigo, and it's Anadlusian grandeur is emphasised by the dramatic swells.  There's nothing jazz here until the second track, 'Will o' the Wisp', which has a swing to it.  Throughout Sketches of Spain, there's this little hand percussion that cuts through the whole mix - like an egg shaker or something.  It really grounds what could become an otherwise overblown sense of grandeur, and I award Gil Evans for his compositional taste.  Sketches of Spain is a certainly as far away from the exploratory, risk-taking Miles Davis as possible, but it's a textbook example of how trumpet can be a lead instrument.  That it was released in the late 1940's, just after the Spanish Civil War, makes me wonder about context and what sorts of statements Evans and Davis were trying to make.  We can turn to Charlie Haden and Carla Bley's Liberation Music Orchestra for a more overt form of that, but I want to believe this is more than postcard musical tourism.

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