Miles Davis with Gil Evans – Miles Ahead (1957)

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by Nick DeRiso

Miles Ahead was initially billed by Columbia Records, in the flatly obvious tone of the day, as “Miles Davis plus 19, with Gil Evans.”

Right. Still, it was that last guy, the 20th man, who was the important one.

After a burst of creativity in the late 1940s — the clearest result being the very cool but obviously embryonic Birth of the Cool on Capitol — Evans didn’t work with Miles Davis again until the late 1950s. Davis seemed better for the reunion, as this record touched off an incredible rejuvenation for someone who had already done seminal work with the jazz legend Charlie Parker.

Highlights, and there are many, included the title track (embedded below), Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke,” and “The Maids of Cadiz” by Leo Delibes, Davis’ initial stab at reformulating European classical music.

In fact, Miles Ahead — an underappreciated gem which I guess should be filed here as part of our ongoing Forgotten Series, it once featured the above since-removed hipster-cool cover image — marks the beginning of a striking second period of collaborative vitality for both Miles Davis and for Gil Evans: Next from these two came Porgy and Bess, issued a year later; and then Sketches of Spain from 1960, both also on Columbia Records. Too, arguably the best recordings by Evans and Davis apart from each other as band leaders are from this period, as well: Miles’ 1959 Kind of Blue and Gil’s 1960 Impulse LP Out of the Cool.

There’s a newer digital version of Miles Ahead, from 1997, with a remaster job by original producer George Avakian. He took the session’s (superior, in terms of sound) mono tapes and cleaned up a few glitches from that first analog-to-digital transfer. Namely, Avakian eliminated some hiss and extraneous noises — and linked both sides at their mid-album intersection, which you couldn’t do with vinyl.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Even so, there was something about the roundness, and the upfront bass, that mono brought so brilliantly to these sessions. Call me old: On most days, I still prefer how Miles Ahead sounds on my turntable.

They kept the newer album cover, too.

Those are quibbles, though. We move on … These sets — featuring talented sidemen like Wynton Kelly, Lee Konitz, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor — are infectious, loose and sheer genius.

Evans said they were done in three, three-hour sessions — with no rehearsals. His chromatic, counter-rhythmic charts are bluesy, new and sure. Throw in Miles’ long, cerulean notes — and there are still few recordings of any kind that approach Miles Ahead.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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