Every Record I Own - Day 224: Miles Davis In A Silent Way
I’ve been listening to a lot of Miles Davis lately. I think, in some way, it’s been a way to grapple with leaving New York. I talked about it a few months ago, but Workin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet was on heavy rotation when we made the decision to move back to Seattle and in my mind that record feels like a Rosetta Stone to understanding and appreciating New York City. It’s difficult to explain, and maybe I don’t fully understand it myself, and that’s why I’ve been obsessed with Miles lately.
Jazz is something I’ve always felt I needed to appreciate, but it’s always felt cluttered and academic, and that’s not a winning combo for me. Workin’ wasn’t the first jazz album to win me over; it wasn’t even the first Miles Davis record in my collection. But it was the first album where that traditional bop sound finally made sense, and I think it only made sense against the backdrop of the city. Yes, it was a little frantic, a little skittish, and the moments of solid harmony were fleeting, but that was life in NYC.
I picked up this record last weekend while the husband and I had our first visit back to Brooklyn. In A Silent Way was Davis’ first “electric” record, and was met with mixed reviews when it first came out. It’s now considered a classic, though it still tends to be overshadowed by other albums in his catalog. It’s a record that feels like what I’ve been searching for in jazz for the last ten years. Yes, it’s a bit dissonant and freeform at times, but it falls into these tight grooves and sublime melodies that are so undeniably strong that it makes the moments of chaos all the more thrilling. The whole thing feels like a delicate tightrope walk, where Davis and the band risk falling into total cacophony, but always wind up landing on some elevated plane of beauty.
It helps that In A Silent Way is a relatively subdued record, especially compared to later electric records like Bitches Brew. Moments on the title track hint at the minimalist groove Can churned out on Ege Bamyasi or the somber voids of Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock. It’s all bookended by these blissed out guitar passages that sound like they could have inspired a lot of the first-wave post-rock bands. In A Silent Way feels like the backstory to the obsessions of my 30s, like tracing a route back to a branching of paths, and it makes me want to explore those other trails.