Life-changing jazz albums: Miles Davis' 'In A Silent Way'

Clarinettist Arun Ghosh talks about the album that changed his life, In A Silent Way, by Miles Davis. Interview by Brian Glasser

I first heard this when I was 20 or 21. I was concentrating more on my classical playing at the time; but I was working out what I wanted to do, and really getting into jazz. Miles Davis was my main listening. I’d kept pretty much in line with his chronology, starting with Kind of Blue, and 1958 Miles – so lots of standards, as well as his modal stuff. But at the same time, in that late 1990s period, I was really into bands like Spiritualized, Primal Scream, The Verve, The Boo Radleys – very dense electronic textures. When I finally heard In A Silent Way I suddenly thought: ‘This is the sound! This is exactly the sound I want to make.’ I was a long way from making it, but it felt like it meant something very strong to me. I think I needed the background in the earlier Miles work to understand what he was doing; and I also needed the other music to appreciate the electronic textures.

What also went hand-in-hand with that was an increasing love and appreciation of Indian music – Ravi Shankar and all those other classical Indian dudes. In A Silent Way felt extremely Indian in a number of ways – that sense of space and time just stretching by, over these drones where people solo and stretch out melodically rather than grandstanding. So suddenly I’d found the right jazz sound for me – far more than bebop, far more than the cool stuff, far more than standards. It shaped how I think about sounds, drones and texture – both on stage and in my compositions for theatre.

 

“I bought In A Silent Way as a present for someone and then liked it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to give it to them”

 

It’s fascinating rhythmically – it’s so restrained. After listening so much to the 1960s quintet, where Tony Williams’ virtuosity made it sound like he’d created a new instrument, the way he just marks time on the whole of the first side was such a radical and unexpected move. Then you get to the second side, and he does the same thing. But then the magic happens, when that Dave Holland bassline comes in – it’s one of the all-time great basslines – and people are soloing over it and Miles waits till his turn at the end. And suddenly Tony just explodes. He’s held himself back for the whole album. It’s astounding; and the hit that gives me whenever I listen to it is pure joy. It takes me back to the raves I was going to then.

This album really lends itself to being an LP, with one long piece on each side. I bought it on vinyl from Decoy Records in Manchester, which I think Mike Chadwick used to run back then. I also bought Kind of Blue, which I already had on CD. In fact, I bought In A Silent Way as a present for someone and then liked it so much that I couldn’t bring myself to give it to them. They don’t know that! I feel guilty every time I think about it. In fact, you can still see the inscription on the back of my copy: ‘To someone... – who I’m not going to name – ‘Happy birthday, from Arun’. I still know this person… Actually, it’s my brother! It was for his 18th birthday. He’s going to read about this now!

Another family connection: I’ve always loved the cover. The expression Miles has on his face, his skin tone, has always reminded me of my dad. There’s something warm I feel about that, which in turn influences the way I feel about the music. The character of the playing is so gentle and tranquil, but with real strength behind it – which also reminds me of my father.

Finally – I could go on! – the texture that John McLaughlin brings to this really makes the album. Of course, he was into the Indian stuff by then. His open tuning on the first side and the E tuning on the second side shapes the sound of jazz for the next 10-15 years.

I met Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter last year when we shared a press conference, which was pretty amazing. I told Mr Shorter – Wayne – about listening to him in my flat in Manchester when I was young and had no money and how great it was to actually meet him, and he said: ‘Sometimes life is a fairy tale; and sometimes a fairy tale is life!’ These guys, man…

The Album

Miles Davis In A Silent WayMiles Davis

In A Silent Way

Columbia (1969)

Miles Davis (t), Wayne Shorter (ss), John McLaughlin (g), Joe Zawinul (org), Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock (el p), Dave Holland (b) and Tony Williams (d).

 

 

 

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Jazzwise. To find out more about subscribing to Jazzwise, please visit: www.jazzwisemagazine.com/subscribe

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