MILES DAVIS — Filles de Kilimanjaro (review)

MILES DAVIS — Filles de Kilimanjaro album cover Album · 1969 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Miles Davis’, “Filles Des Kilimanjaro”, is one of the most experimental and forward looking albums in his vast discography, and it is also one of his most misunderstood. Most reviews of this album talk about it being a transitional album in between his post bop years and his fusion years, but really it is not exactly either of those musical tendencies. It is a fusion album of sorts, but not the ‘jazz-rock’ fusion that will bring Miles much money and fame in the coming years. Instead, on this album Miles begins his exploration of static musical forms, music that is somewhat the same from beginning to end, much like traditional African music, or also similar to Stockhausen’s Momente form which is based on the idea of a musical continuum with no particular beginning or end. All of this is in difference to Western notions of linear musical progressions. In Momente form, each moment is as important and pertinent as the next. Miles was influenced by Stockhausen, but also by the very African sound of James Brown’s new funk style. It all ties together. After this album, Miles will get a lot of attention with some star-studded jazz-rock fusion albums that got a big advertising push from Columbia, but after the hoopla dies down, Miles will get back to his experiments in static music with albums like “On the Corner”, “Big Fun”, “Get Up With It” and a trio of live albums recorded in Japan.

On the back liner notes of the album, Ralph Gleason offers one take on this album as being a concerto for drummer Tony Williams, and in many ways, Tony is the central glue here with everyone else backing him, or interjecting on top of him. Album opener, “Frelon Brun”, is sort of a funky RnB jam until Tony just keeps taking it further out there. The next two tracks that fill side one are almost free jazz, although they are more or less tonal and seem to hang with an implied pulse, but very little literal time keeping. If you are familiar with the barn burning, “Miles Live at Fillmore”, than you may recognize these two “Filles” tracks as supplying the scattered material that happens on the live “Fillmore” album in between the sections that have a more pronounced groove. On the side one closer, Miles plays some melodies that will show up later on “In a Silent Way”, as well as melodies that will show up in various live jam tracks and from the “Directions” album.

Side two opens with the album’s title track and is the one track where the band hits a familiar groove. It has an ear grabbing melody and an overall relaxed atmosphere. This side closes out with “Miss Mabry”, which uses a static compositional tool that is a favorite for Miles. On this track different sections repeat and come around again, but the song never really gets anywhere. This compositional technique will hit a zenith for Miles when he records “Great Expectations” for the “Big Fun” album. Its important to note that Miles wrote everyone of these tracks, instead of leaning on Wayne Shorter as he had in the past. Only Miles had the vision of what he wanted here, it would take others some time to catch up to this concept of music, and apparently very few have.
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