By Jack Sharkey, May 20,2016.

I’m sitting here on a rainy Friday morning listening to the greatest selling jazz album of all time, and my thoughts turn to “comps.” Digital technology ushered in a method of music production that made it easy to take a singer’s (or other musician’s) multiple takes and edit them down into one virtually seamless performance. It made bad players sound great and great players sound exactly how they probably would have sounded if the record producer had been locked out of the control room. When you listen to any singer today, you are not hearing his or her complete performance of a track, you are listening to a composite of practically each syllable the singer formed during multiple takes. The producer then sits in front of a monitor and digitally slices and dices the dozens of takes to come up with one final “performance.”  Everybody does it, and while the human imperfections have been removed from the performance, so has the soul.

 

Hours before the recording sessions for Kind of Blue, Miles Davis put the settings into loose arrangements and gave them to the other musicians upon arriving at the studio just before recording started. When you listen to Kind of Blue (and pretty much every other jazz record from the period) you are listening to not only the first take but often the first time the band even played the song together. The soul of the music is unmistakably evident, and that is why this record is relevant 56 years after it was recorded.

        Miles Davis Kind of Blue

  • Recorded: March 2 & April 22, 1959
  • Released: August 17, 1959
  • Length: 45:44
  • Produced by Teo Macero, Irving Townsend
  • Recorded at: Columbia 30th Street Studio, NYC
  • • 4x Platinum Sales (4,000,000 units shifted)

 

  • Front-to-Back Rating: ⑩ Just put the record on and listen to the music and don’t worry so much about stuff like this.  
  • Audiophile Love Rating: ⑨ There are some minor limitations in the original recording but this really is as good a sounding record from the period as you’re going to hear.
  • Engineering and Mix: ⑨ This is tricky because there really is no “mix” per se. The musicians were set up in the studio and they played while the recording and balance engineers made sure everything sounded right in real time. Are there some issues with the balance? Sure. Do they matter? Not really.

 

Years ago as a drummer whose heart was in jazz but whose skill set was more inclined to the rock and roll, I played with as many people as I could just to lower my suckage level as much as possible. I played one gig with a bunch of really older guys (seriously, they were cats) as a fill-in for their regular drummer. There are no apocryphal stories of the gig, as far as I remember it went okay, but during one of the breaks, the piano player who was probably in his sixties at the time bought me a drink and said one thing to me that has stuck with me for the past thirty years: It’s not what you play, it’s where you don’t play it. That’s what matters.

Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane

 

Kind of Blue is an entire record dedicated to that brilliant musical philosophy. Here’s a record with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane (picture at left), Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and James Cobb and not once does any musician serve himself. Only the feel of the song is served and that is a beautiful thing. You need three things from each musician to make a great jazz record: sympathy to the other musicians and the song, unselfishness, and technical ability to run with changes as the other musicians confront you with them. For that reason, Kind of Blue is the epitome of great musicians playing spontaneous music brilliantly.

 

As far as sonics go, if you like the sound of acoustic bass this is the record for you. Chambers wasn’t a very noisy player, so there is not a lot of slap and fret noise in his playing, but you get the total three-dimensionality of his instrument and the gentle throb and pulse of the bass exists without being intrusive. The drums are a little bit far back but the ride cymbal is upfront and present throughout: All attack with very little decay. You can hear each cymbal stroke as a physical thing and not just a suggestion. Because of overtones, piano is the hardest instrument to record cleanly and you can clearly hear the overtones particularly during Bill Evans’ solo on Flamenco Sketches. At times they make the piano sound slightly out of tune, but that's just the nature of the beast, especially in 1959.

 

KEF HD-Tracks Kind of Blue Download

Adderley and Coltrane are absolute masters of their craft and the harmonic interplay between the two is worth the price of admission but it is Davis’ beautifully pure tone and understated style that makes this record such a pleasure to listen to. It’s available now on 180gm vinyl from Columbia, so skip the digital versions and hear it the way it was recorded.

 

Kind of Blue is best listened to: 

  • • During one of those gentle late spring thunderstorms with just enough rain to enhance James Cobb’s brush work on his snare. I hadn’t heard this record in a while and that’s what my setting was for listening to it and it was spectacular 
  • • For the mobile amongst you, this may be a great record to listen to with quality headphones or earbuds whilst taking an A, C, 1, 2 or 3 train uptown on a Friday night. Note: Your subway experience may differ, but you get the idea
  • • This is thoughtful, soulful music so ingest accordingly
  • • Break out the good Scotch and savor it all

 

 

The system used for this review: Vinyl on a VPI Scout turntable with KEF R300s powered by a Hegel H160 Integrated.