MILES DAVIS — Birth of the Cool

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4.51 | 30 ratings | 2 reviews
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Boxset / Compilation · 1956

Filed under Cool Jazz


A1 Move 2:29
A2 Jeru 3:09
A3 Moon Dreams 3:17
A4 Venus De Milo 3:09
A5 Budo 2:29
A6 Deception 2:41
B1 Godchild 3:06
B2 Boplicity 2:57
B3 Rocker 3:03
B4 Israel 2:14
B5 Rouge 3:11


Alto Saxophone – Lee Konitz
Baritone Saxophone – Gerry Mulligan
Bass – Al McKibbon (tracks: A3, A6, B3), Joe Shulman (tracks: A1, A2, A5, B1), Nelson Boyd (tracks: A4, B2, B4, B5)
Drums – Kenny Clarke (tracks: A4, B2, B4, B5), Max Roach (tracks: A1 to B1, B3)
French Horn – Gunther Schuller (tracks: A3, A6, B3,), Junior Collins (tracks: A1, A2, A5, B1), Sandy Siegelstein (tracks: A4, B2, B4, B5)
Piano – Al Haig (tracks: A1, A2, A5, B2), John Lewis (tracks: A4, B2, B4, B5)
Trombone – J.J. Johnson (tracks: A3, A4, A6, B2, B3, B4, B5), Kai Winding (tracks: A1, A2, A5, B1)
Trumpet – Miles Davis
Tuba – Bill Barber (tracks: A1 to A3, A5 to B1, B3)

About this release

Capitol Records – T-762 (US)

This album was recorded on 1-21-1949 and 3-9-1950.Originally released as singles, eight of the tracks were compiled in 1953 on a 10" vinyl record in Capitol's "Classics In Jazz" series (H-459), and Birth of the Cool was released in 1957 as a 12" LP that added the remaining three unreleased instrumental pieces ("Move", "Budo" and "Boplicity"). The final track, "Darn That Dream" (the only song with vocals, by Hagood), was included with the other eleven on a 1971 LP

Thanks to snobb, js for the updates


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In the late 1940s several visionary jazz musicians began to gather at Gil Evans small NYC apartment with the purpose of trying out new ideas in playing and arranging. Charlie Parker’s music was king then and these musicians, which included Evans as well as Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis and others, wanted to take Parker’s rhythmic bop innovations and fuse them with more developed and modern backing arrangements. The end result became the perfect merger of fast-on-your-feet NYC wit with a certain continental sophistication that sounded like Bird jamming with Ravel. Although many of these tunes had been released as singles and EPs throughout the 50s, it wasn’t until 1958 that this album came out, and with the aid of 20/20 hindsight, was called “Birth of the Cool”. I’m sure the title helped move numbers during the height of the “cool jazz” fad, but this album isn’t really cool jazz per se, more of a very unique hybrid that is equal parts bop, 3rd stream, progressive big band and some innovative ideas that helped start the cool trend.

As stated earlier, the musicians in Miles’ Nonet were very much interested in taking bop to new places through the art of arranging. Although at this time Ellington was always taking jazz arranging to new places, what Mulligan and the others tried out on “Birth” was a whole new bag. Ravel and Stravinsky are big influences as the backing horns play curious and odd soft dissonances that the soloists are encouraged to blend with. A blending of solo and arrangement was a big goal of the Nonet, and the resultant music was subtle, almost hallucinatory in its vague shifting colors. This is one of those rare albums that is almost a genre unto itself. Like Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” and Ornette’s “Free Jazz”, the music on here cannot be repeated as times have moved on leaving this one in crystallized form.

Some album highlights include Evans’ arrangement of “Moon Dream”, a beautiful vague blur of floating chords, and “Rouge”, John Lewis’ bizarre abstract bop tune where phrases seem to kaledioscope on top of each other while constantly finishing each other‘s statement. There is a moment on “Moon Dream” where the horns are holding a high fragile chord and Miles’ horn cracks sending shards of overtones through the section, its this kind of subtlety that is this album’s hallmark. This isn’t easy music to grasp, its like nailing jello to the wall, but that is its charm.
(Most jazzers know Miles Davis like the pope knows God so this review is aimed at the younger generation that might be somewhat agnostic when it comes to MD.)

If you're a fan of Jazz Rock/Fusion but have never really explored the realm of Jazz itself because it seems way too old-fashioned and ancient to your ears then perhaps it's because you've never heard Miles Davis. If what really intrigues you about The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Weather Report is the complexity of how those unbridled, flying notes fit together in some magical way without your really having to understand all the "theory" behind it all then you'll probably dig Miles Davis. If you want to go back to the tail end of the 40s and the first months of the 50s when fearless jazz musicians were starting to change all the established rules, push the envelope of what was "acceptable" and knock down locked doors then "Birth of the Cool" is a great place to begin. A "birth," indeed! Now, I'm no expert on modern jazz. Far from it. The closest I ever came to being in the presence of seriously dedicated jazz musicians was when I was lucky enough to draw the famous One O'clock Lab Band as my beat for the campus newspaper while attending The University of North Texas in the early 70s. (My job was to sit and listen to them rehearse. Tough assignment, I know!) But I know what I like and I've learned over the years that greatness has no age limits or boundaries. This incredibly talented nonet that Miles put together made music that moves and breathes on its own like some new organism that sprang up spontaneously from all the elements of the earth. If the opening track, "Move," doesn't make you stop what you're doing to listen in wide-eyed wonder to what these nine guys are creating and mixing together then you might as well give the album away. And don't be ashamed if that happens. These challenging multi-horn, piano, upright bass and drumkit arrangements ain't for everybody. The tunes are short by 70s fusion standards but they come off more as movements in a symphony than as individual pieces. There's also a real paradox going on here because, while the music is certainly difficult and complicated, there's a sense that the musicians are having the most relaxing, joyful time of their lives because they're finally getting to play what they want to play.

So if you think that music in the mid 20th century was all Glenn Miller, Doo Wop and Elvis then you may want to educate yourself by putting this inside your head. So many of the artists that pioneered the Jazz/Rock fusion movement either performed with and/or were greatly inspired by Miles Davis that the list wouldn't leave out a single soul. What's really "cool" about this album is that it is truly music for grownups that are still young at heart. It's playful yet it makes you think. A 5 star masterpiece from a long, long time ago.

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