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The Friday Morning Listen: Miles Davis - Bitches Brew (1970)

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By Mark Saleski

A friend of mine, who is just beginning to dip his toe into the pool of jazz, asked me if I thought he was “ready" for Bitches Brew. That's a tricky question, no matter who is doing the asking. The generic answer, suitable for use in nearly any situation, is a definite “maybe." Some might say it's a mighty big leap from Kind Of Blue to Bitches Brew. Indeed, the two albums sound nothing like each other, with the former's genius slowly revealed in the subtleties of modal interplay while the latter makes a much more strident, funky, and loud statement.

The question remains, if a person has only been exposed to the “safer," more structured side of jazz, is a visit to the deep end going a bit too far?

A recent article at A Blog Supreme explored similar territory with You Aren't Too Dumb To Like Jazz. Part of that piece explored the issue of complexity and the often-visited idea that a person needs to “understand" the music in order to enjoy it. I've never really agreed with that sentiment, mostly because there are so many more ways to appreciate a piece of art than understanding its technical nature. Do we have to understand Picasso's technique to appreciate the color explosions of his paintings? It's never been that way with me. So, those lilting opening melodies that Miles plays on “All Blues" are just that, melodies that on their own sound pleasing to the ear. How they fit into the song's structure can be appreciated, but it's not necessary for the listener's enjoyment.

While Bitches Brew lives nowhere near the extreme end of Whack Jazz, much of it is certainly an ear-opening experience. Melodic lines can at first flow in parallel and then later collide. Ideas move from one player to the next at what at times is not a linear fashion. There are abrupt changes in direction, tempo, and mood. There are reasons, some of them non-musical, for these shifts. I'm not going to discuss them, because they focus attention in the wrong place.

What is important? That all of these musical elements are propelled by an insistent pulse that reduces to a kind of funk stew. Let it flow over you for a while and you'll realize that you're being taken over by a killer groove. You'll realize that you're having fun, and that you're not too stupid to like jazz.

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