MILES DAVIS — Sketches of Spain (review)

MILES DAVIS — Sketches of Spain album cover Album · 1960 · Third Stream Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Sketches of Spain is often regarded as of the more unique albums in Miles Davis' massive discography - surely no small undertaking when we're talking about a catalog that consists of be-bop, cool jazz, fusion, pop/jazz, hard bop, and nearly every other style of twentieth century jazz music. This 1960 collaboration between Davis and Gil Evans shows very limited improvisation, and instead focused on (yep, you guessed it) Spanish-influenced classical compositions. This was indeed a very interesting idea for a jazz record at the time, and Sketches of Spain's unique flamenco style sets it apart from any other album in Davis' catalog. Even though it drifts into background music a bit too frequently for my liking, Sketches of Spain is largely an innovative and successful effort from Miles Davis.

This is very much an 'album of two halves', seeing that side one consists of well-known pieces by Spanish composers, whereas side two is made up of three songs written by Gil Evans. All of Sketches of Spain is laden with a distinct Spanish flavoring, though, so the fact that there are different composers here doesn't lead to incoherency in any form. The epic 16-minute "Concierto de Aranjuez" (originally written by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo) is my favorite track here by a longshot - I absolutely love the song by the strength of its composition alone, but the unique spin that Miles Davis and Gil Evans give this classic is absolutely stunning. This is a beautiful piece of music, and the sheer power of this arrangement is breathtaking. The rest of the album is undoubtedly good, but it seldom reaches the level of finesse that the first song achieves. Miles' playing is excellent as always (he even delivers some of his finest performances here), the band backing him is dynamic, and the production is crystal clear - I just don't think the album as a whole is nearly as fantastic as the opening track. Apart from a few captivating hooks and solos, I find my mind wandering an uncomfortable amount of times throughout the album's 41 minute duration. Scrolling through other reviews show that I'm in a small minority, though, so don't take my word for it without hearing all of Sketches of Spain for yourself.

Sketches of Spain is an interesting experiment in Miles Davis' career, and while I'm not entirely convinced that it's one of the trumpeter's finest efforts, it's a highly enjoyable album for any fan of jazz and classical music. Any fan of Miles Davis who hasn't already heard Sketches of Spain (if there are any) should definitely make sure it finds a way into their collection - this intriguing mix of Spanish classical and jazz music is bound to make for at least a few solid listening experiences. So even though this isn't a flawless album in my eyes, the uniqueness of the project and the greatness of "Concierto de Aranjuez" is enough for me to consider it a 3.5 star album. Not one of the first Davis albums I'd recommend, but certainly not one of the last either.
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