Miles Davis (t), 21-piece big bands and Gil Evans (arr, cond). Rec. 6 May 1957-19 May 1961. Plus John Coltrane (ts), Wynton Kelly (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Jimmy Cobb (d). Rec. 21 Mar 1961
1958’s Porgy And Bess was the jazziest of the Miles-and-Gil collaborations, while its predecessor Miles Ahead was the most innovative and groundbreaking, in its concerto format and breadth of material. Sketches Of Spain, whose 50th anniversary Sony are celebrating, is the masterpiece that leaves all possible comment falling short and the contents falling outside of most categories before or since. In the second half of the 1950s, a lot of talk and work went into trying to create the “third stream” of jazz-meets-classical-and-lives-happily-after. Compared to its few relatively acceptable remnants, Sketches dwarfs the theory and stands on its own. It’s also one of the great incarnations of “modal jazz”, both in parts of the ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ and the rest of the more folk-derived material. Best of all, you don’t think (except during the majestic ‘Saeta’) in terms of tourist-image Spain.
With the extra item ‘Song Of Our Country’ based on composer Villa-Lobos, the album is expanded on the second CD by alternate takes first compiled on the 1996 Davis-Evans box set, which give an idea of the challenge facing both Miles and the band, plus the live ‘Concierto’ done at Carnegie Hall in 1961. Two surprising additions are ‘The Maids Of Cadíz’ from Miles Ahead and the slightly related quintet track ‘Teo’ – but then you could argue for adding ‘Blues For Pablo’ (“from a Mexican folk song”, according to Evans) or indeed for ‘Flamenco Sketches’ with its repeated D7-based Spanish section. And there would certainly be space for ‘Song #1’ and ‘Song #2’ from Quiet Nights, both based on Iberian material (a fact unacknowledged in the Miles-Gil literature). The only real blemish is the omission of the 15-second ending to ‘Cadíz’ – yes, the original LP was wrongly banded but all the box-set alternate takes, not used here, say the ending should be included. Despite that, this is still a five-star achievement.
– Brian Priestley