MILES DAVIS — In a Silent Way (review)

MILES DAVIS — In a Silent Way album cover Album · 1969 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
In A Silent Way is usually considered to be one of the first albums to blend traditional jazz with rock music, as well as one of the greatest albums in the fusion genre. Miles Davis had hinted at this fusion of jazz and rock music on a few previous efforts, but this observation from 1969 can safely be considered his first full-blown fusion effort. In A Silent Way is a little bit different from what you may be expecting from a fusion album, though - you'll hardly find any zany instrumental outbursts here. Apart from a few sections, this is a very subtle album that is focused mainly on quiet jazz ambiance and deep improvisation. The 'rock' element of In A Silent Way is mainly found in the instrumentation; the extensive use of electric guitar, electric piano, and organ was nearly unheard of in jazz music back in 1969. This is first and foremost a jazz album, and those seeking audacious rock rhythms and frantic soloing may be in for a slight disappointment, but it's an essential purchase for any open-minded fan of early jazz fusion music.

This album took longer for me to 'get' than a lot of other Miles Davis albums, for some reason or another. I guess an album that only consists of two sidelong tracks, both of which are only characterized by subtle rhythms and improvisations can take a little while to warm up to. In A Silent Way did eventually click with me, though, and after about six listens or so I began to understand what everyone else sees in this album. What initially struck me as boring noodling soon grew into genius solos, and the improvised chemistry between each of the musicians is truly remarkable. The album begins with "Shhh/Peaceful", which is (as the title suggests) a very quiet and subtle piece. It's a bit too long-drawn for my tastes, but there are plenty of great moments throughout the eighteen minute duration. Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea's electric piano playing both add lots of depth and layering to this piece. "In A Silent Way/It's About That Time" is my favorite of the two songs, and contains a few more traditional rock elements than the first track. The riffs also tend to change more frequently, and the ending is quite exciting.

Neither of the two songs draw extensively from rock music in terms of songwriting, but the electric instrumentation was sure to have jazz purists crying foul around the time of its release. John McLaughlin's warm electric guitar tones as well as the organ and electric pianos were, while still very subdued and gentle, pretty ambitious for jazz music at the time. Of course, the musicians playing these 'new' instruments were all top notch. If you look at the lineup and then consider all of the legendary jazz groups that formed from these guys, it's clear that Miles hand-picked some of the scene's most talented musicians for this session. The production courtesy of Teo Macero is very warm and clear - In A Silent Way sports one of the best fusion productions out there for sure.

Parts of In A Silent Way may feel a bit too long-drawn and unfocused for my tastes, but there's no denying that this is a revolutionary - and damn good - jazz fusion album. Anybody looking for an example of what jazz rock sounded like back in 1969 should be sure to check this classic out (if you haven't already heard it, of course). Although more subdued than a lot of other fusion classics, In A Silent Way should hold just as much appeal to rock and jazz fans alike. This may not be my favorite Davis album, but there's enough quality music and ambition here to let me consider it part of his essential canon. In A Silent Way deserves no less than 4 stars in my mind.
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