Classic Album Review,
Miles Davis - Milestones
Milestones is as close to a perfect jazz album as any I can think of, offering the best of everything I want out of fifties bop: brilliant soloing from the cream of the crop, instantly catchy tunes at zippy tempos driven by a crack rhythm section, and above all it is unutterably cool. Featuring Miles Davis’s short-lived sextet line-up of Julian `Cannonball' Adderley (alto sax), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Red Garland (piano) and the peerless rhythm section of Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums), each member was at the top of their game, and Adderley, Coltrane, and Chambers would remain in place for the landmark Kind of Blue, recorded the following year.
The title track is historically significant as the first instance of Davis basing a theme and subsequent improvising around modal scales instead of the usual major and minor, starting him along a path that would eventually lead him to the aforementioned Kind of Blue, and Coltrane on the path to A Love Supreme, setting the basis for modern jazz. There is a sense of new-found freedom in Davis’s beautiful solo on this track, giving the impression of his lines floating up above, untethered to the fairly fast-paced tempo down below, yet always able to skip back into faster pace at will. Beyond the significance of that track though, Milestones is a collection of brilliant up-tempo blues tunes, very much part of the hard-bop period in which it was recorded whilst avoiding some of the generic tropes that many of the albums in that style fell into. We are thrown straight in with a blistering take of Jackie McLean’s Dr. Jekyll - a terrific showcase for the individual strengths of the three horns, with Davis’s brilliant solo setting out many of the hallmarks of the album – concision, athleticism and a general lack of flab. The more relaxed pace of Sid’s Ahead feels like a precursor for Freddie Freeloader, and is a good opportunity to compare the contrasting styles of the two saxophonists (conveniently separated by a very laid-back solo from Davis); Coltrane takes the first solo, and we hear his restless need to experiment, even in the context of a fairly low-key track, always pushing at the harmonic boundaries, whilst Adderley is less troubled and altogether more urbane on the alto. It’s easy to forget that Adderley was one of great players of the fifties and sixties, and every bit the equal of Coltrane during this period.
Two Bass Hit, a piece by original boppers Dizzy Gillespie and John Lewis (best known as the founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet) takes us back into the up-tempo bluster, and is prime hard-bop, as is Billy Boy - a showpiece for pianist Red Garland, with the horns all sitting out, and plenty of room for Chambers to deliver a humorous bowed bass solo. A brisk yet elegant take on Monk’s Straight, No Chaser is the perfect way to close an album that should be in every collection.
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Adderley had disbanded his own group when he received invitation to join Miles Davis in 1957, so this album was recorded with the all-star group that Davis was running at the time. This classic of the Blue Note catalogue is also a rare instance of Davis appearing as a sideman.
Available Format: CD