"I wanted to make the sound more like rock."
February 18, 2014 6:56 AM   Subscribe

45 years ago today, Miles Davis and the remnants of the second quintet recorded In a Silent Way. Produced by Teo Macero, its release in July of 1969 marked (for some) the beginning of something different.

The recording featured a new addition to Miles's sound in the electric guitar, wrangled by Englishman John McLaughlin.

Personnel from the recording branched into their own fusion projects- McLaughlin with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Zawinul and Shorter with Weather Report, Hancock with The Headhunters, and Corea with Return to Forever.

Bonus material: Miles interviewed at low volume on a shitty mic by Japan's Swing Journal shortly after the album's release (Part 1)(Part 2).
posted by stinkfoot (23 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

Nice post, thanks! Great to read the musicians commentary in that first linked article.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:25 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I bought the complete Bitch's Brew box set when it first came out because shiny object, (beautiful packaging!) but it sat mostly un-listened to for a log time because I really wasn't getting it. Several years later, on the recommendation of a friend, I finally bought In A Silent Way, and immediately fell in love with it. A few weeks later, I picked up a used book called Miles Beyond, and while it was kinda dry, it was a really good guide into further exploration of the 70's electric stuff, and now I own most of it. Get Up With It has become a personal fave because it's so groove & funk oriented, but In A Silent Way is still right at the top of the heap of his best albums, alongside Kind of Blue.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:39 AM on February 18

Zawinul also claimed to have invented hip-hop.
posted by thelonius at 7:44 AM on February 18

In 1969, jazz music was widely regarded as old music made by irrelevant “stiffs” in suits. Certainly very few members of the hippie counterculture would admit to owning a jazz recording.

Amazing that within a span of 10 short years, this uniquely American form of music went from "hip" to "square". It goes to show that not all of the iconoclasm of the 1960s was for the good.
posted by Pararrayos at 7:45 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Devils Rancher: The Silent Way Sessions is well worth it, probably my favorite of such collections by Davis.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:54 AM on February 18

If it's got the un-edited full versions of the recordings, I'm there. A couple of Macero's tape splices are kind of jarring.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:46 AM on February 18

It does. Likewise The Jack Johnson Sessions on the funkier side of things. To quote Miles at the tag end of a take: "That was some raunchy shit, y'all."
posted by Lorin at 8:51 AM on February 18

Thanks for this; I love In a Silent Way!

> The Silent Way Sessions is well worth it, probably my favorite of such collections by Davis.

I don't own it, partly because of the following review in the (superb—if you love jazz and don't own a copy, go get one!) Penguin Guide to Jazz:
On the assumption that 'more is better,' the Complete In A Silent Way Sessions were awaited with as much hushed anticipation as must have preceded the opening of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the event, the experience is almost as enigmatic and troubling. To stumble over a conclusion first, hearing the raw material in its entirety makes one give thanks for the genius of Miles and Teo Macero in seeing what was essential in these extraordinary recordings and what was of less significance. There is nothing here that improves on the released version. Some of the material here, like 'Mademoiselle Mabry', 'Frelon Brun' and 'Dual Mr Anthony Tillman', was used to pad out Filles de Kilimanjaro and Water Babies; some other material found its way on to Circle In The Round. The brooding minor-key 'It's About That Time' was to become known as an anchor for important live sets by the 'lost' Davis band.

The real interest lies in the alternative takes of the title-piece and of 'Shhh/Peaceful'. These are good enough, though one cannot quibble with the decision as to issued takes. The album versions are supplemented on disc three by 'The Ghetto Walk', a genuine rarity and perhaps the only thing on the set that in any way significantly alters one's view of Miles at this period. In many ways it presages the trumpeter's return to the blues towards the end of his life. That was seen as a late, almost deathbed, return to the fold; this amazing track, which features sterling work from McLaughlin and Shorter as well as from the leader, is ample confirmation that Miles was never far from the blues.

Collectors and genuine scholars will find much to ponder here. The rest of us can merely marvel at how many marble chips have to be left on the studio floor to create one David or one Balzac. Miles carved out this material from the most obdurate of material. The albums he created and curated with Macero's help are timeless masterpieces. Insights into their genesis are fascinating but ultimately unnecessary. You'll listen to In A Silent Way a hundred times; you might listen to these tracks thrice, and then only to wonder how the miracle was achieved.
I hope it's clear that they're not dissing either Miles or In A Silent Way (they give it the maximum four stars and put it in their Core Collection), nor are they saying the Complete Sessions are not worth getting—they're just saying it's mainly of interest to collectors and scholars. Once upon a time I might have sprung for the complete set, but now that both my budget and remaining years are noticeably tight, I figure I can use the time and money better. But that's just me: if you want the set, go for it! I'm just providing some additional context. (I do own, and love, The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel, so I'm not averse to shelling out for essential Miles!)
posted by languagehat at 9:11 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

It's hard to think of many records that I've listened to more often than this one!

Might be worth pointing out Joe Zawinul's version of "In a Silent Way" from 1971. Not better than the original, but worth hearing.
posted by with hidden noise at 9:16 AM on February 18

I can't help posting this youtube of a squeaky door doing an impression of Miles Davis during his early electric period.

As for the other stuff, I can't argue with the excerpt languagehat posted from the Penguin Guide. While it's absolutely true for me that I will listen to the alternative tracks a fraction of the times I will listen to the actual album tracks, I still think it's interesting to have the other versions just to hear how a piece may have evolved. But that's more of an intellectual exercise than listening pleasure (although the former enhances the latter).
posted by slkinsey at 9:23 AM on February 18

> Zawinul also claimed to have invented hip-hop.

The first link also alleges In a Silent Way is a progenitor of ambient.

The paternity of most musical styles is rarely established through simple tests.
posted by ardgedee at 9:46 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Panthalassa, Bill Laswell's restrained and tasteful edits of Miles' music of this era, is worth a listen as well.
posted by STFUDonnie at 10:11 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]

they're just saying it's mainly of interest to collectors and scholars.

This is why I would get it, though. I'm as interested in the process as the product, and the raw unedited tracks will reveal the process to some extent, and I'm really curious as to what Macero was hearing when he decided to make the edits he did. They're a pretty defining part of the work -- it was the 70's and an album could only be so long, and he was tasked with boiling it down. I trust he did a good job, so it's not second-guessing or thinking that there must be stuff left on the cutting room floor that's equal to or better than what made the cut.

As a musician, I've left sessions that were only bass & drums complete, & been shocked by the final results a week or a month later, & I've also been there for the tape-cutting decisions (grueling) so I look at the mixing & compilation of the work into a cohesive piece as much part of the art & an unedited set would let me peer into the pouring stages of the bronze.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:52 AM on February 18

"In A Silent Way" was, for me in 1996, "the beginning of something different." I heard Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians" and Eno's "Music for Airports" all around that same time. It was completely revelatory for me to find out that music didn't really need to "do anything" to be great and beautiful and emotionally affecting.

Just my two cents on "The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions": I won't go so far as to say it's worth the price of admission, but "The Ghetto Walk" must be heard, all twenty-seven minutes of it. The book that accompanies the music also gives a detailed account of how the final recordings were assembled from the studio sessions, so you can listen to those raw tracks and sort of piece it together for yourself. Not the transcendent listening experience afforded by the original, but an illuminating exercise all the same, as others have said above.
posted by eric1halfb at 10:55 AM on February 18

Heard the sessions cd of in a silent way inside out: wonderful and crazy intense. It was used as the soundtrack in that insane movie Symbiopsychotaxiplasm
posted by ouke at 11:20 AM on February 18

Definitely one of the most beautiful moments in recorded music.

I would second the Complete box set as well, especially if you've never heard Circle in the Round, Filles de Kilimanjaro (my personal favorite Miles album), or Water Babies -- these all featured material from the same sessions and definitely have the same atmosphere.
posted by saintjoe at 12:45 PM on February 18

I'm as interested in the process as the product, and the raw unedited tracks will reveal the process to some extent, and I'm really curious as to what Macero was hearing when he decided to make the edits he did.

I almost put a few bits from The Miles Davis Story- I loved this part, especially what Dave Holland and Chick say.
posted by stinkfoot at 12:57 PM on February 18

Those are great quotes. I've been moving that way in a big way as a musician myself, since I started really digging into this stuff. I've always appreciated the spark of creation as an ephemeral thing that lived just in the moment, though I was always skittish about trying to really auger that into a solid concept, but thanks to the Miles improv stuff, & also partly to Andy Partridge releasing the Monstrance album, which is totally improv, I've gotten to a place where I'm comfortable with just letting music happen, without any real composition being done before hand, and it's incredibly gratifying in ways I didn't expect it to be. I'm not 1/10th the player any of the guys in Miles' bands were, but I'm not afraid of it any more & I have confidence in the idea, at least.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:18 PM on February 18

The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions (3h29m)

Individual tracks are timecode linked under the video.

You are welcome.
posted by hippybear at 4:54 PM on February 18

Thanks hippybear.

How good are these musicians? Just imagine watching the extra features on an improv sketch comedy DVD.

I agree with the Penguin Guide quote, but I'm enjoying the hell out of this right now. And although it's effectively true because of limited appeal, I think it's a shame there isn't something like an educational exception to copyright where after 50 or so years it's OK to distribute commercially unreleased raw recordings in their original form without profiting from it. Imagine if every book or website with excerpts from Beethoven's notebooks might disappear at any time if some media conglomerate noticed it!
posted by mubba at 6:16 PM on February 18

Lovely post. Thanks, stinkfoot.
posted by homunculus at 9:45 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Yessss! A great idea, putting this together. Many thanks!
posted by On the Corner at 12:42 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Yessss! A great idea, putting this together. Many thanks!
posted by On the Corner . . .


posted by Herodios at 9:09 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

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