ALBUM REVIEW by Victor Stranges
Miles Davis has long held the reputation of a musical visionary and was willing to experiment in areas of music that were uncharted. Davis died in 1991 but he left a legacy of a 50-plus-year career covering everything from bebop to avant-garde and hip-hop.
Leaving us with a smorgasbord of groundbreaking recordings such as ‘First Miles’, ‘Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet’, ‘Miles Smiles', ‘Bitches Brew’ and ‘Kind Of Blue’, his knack for consistently assembling musicians at the forefront of cutting-edge artistry helped shape music in the twentieth century and are still being felt today.
In A Silent Way captures the humanity of Davis floating over a congruent musical bed of seemingly different musical styles. The album is not jazz, but it is not rock either. What it is... it's 1969. This album was the first in his “electric” period. Many music journalists have regarded this as Davis’s first fusion recording, though his previous records and live shows were signaling this album.
It is rumoured that Davis had been listening to Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone around the time of this recording. The indelible stamp that marked this recording is Davis’ trumpet which provides the emotional soul of the record. It is moving. The “electric” instruments such as keyboards and electric guitars are mixed with Davis’ cool jazz motifs and are fused into a mysterious new type of genre.
The album opens with ‘Shhh/Peaceful’ which has an ascending organ and guitar string bending arpeggios, creating intrigue before quickly descending into an exquisite jam. ‘
"In A Silent Way’ is much denser than ‘Kind of Blue’, with instruments playing freely and cascading over each other, but never tripping over one another. The band included Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, and Herbie Hancock who chiseled a fine piece of seemingly spontaneous jamming. Along with Tony Williams’ amazing cymbal with brushes and Joe Zawinul’s organ, the group presented their vision of an esoteric far away place. The contrast is set when Davis brings his earthy trumpet providing the heart of the music.
Side two contains only one track, the title track, which comes in at a length of 19:52. It starts off as a beautiful and almost prayerful subtle meditation. The track all of a sudden becomes assertive, puncturing the evocative intro into an angular version of Davis’ cool jazz meanderings. It weaves through jazz land that we know and love and the piece resolves to a wistful closing.
This album is a timestamp in musical history when the possibility of a new type of music without a name revealed itself. It was equally mysterious as it was heartfelt. It was a snapshot of some wonderful jams brought together by producer Ted Macero. ‘In A Silent Way’ took a lot of risks and is a true inspiration for younger musicians that seek the same heights of creating music fearlessly.