The Miles Davis Quintet of 1965 to 1968, playing “Agitation” below, is arguably the greatest modern jazz group ever assembled.
Saxophonist Wayne Shorter at his composing and playing peak, Herbie Hancock never played better on acoustic piano than with Miles, and Tony Williams on drums.
By the end of 1964, Miles had already assembled 4 members of the quintet, only saxophonist Wayne Shorter was missing. With the underrated George Coleman filling that role, he lacked what Miles needed, a compositional force his equal, and as it turned out Wayne Shorter fit the bill and then some. Before 1964 was up, Shorter left Art Blakey where he had been for 5 years. Miles finally had his man, so the quintet was complete.
1965’s E.S.P. was released, a groundbreaking album, not only a completely different from before free form style, but the 48 minutes are much longer than the typical jazz album of the time period.
The modal extension is easily noticed on “Circle” and “Delores”, Both tracks have an enigmatic quality to them that remind one of “Blue in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches” from Kind of Blue. The prior album ESP also hinted at this, but Miles and the band perfected this mysterious modal jazz style on this album.
There are plenty of bop groovers here. “Orbits,” “Freedom Jazz Dance,” and “Gingerbread Boy” explode from the speakers. Bassist Ron Carter is the glue that holds this music together, surely an original sounding bassist; no one sounded like Carter the mid-60’s.
Miles Smiles is one of those great jazz albums that still sounds fresh and ahead of its time, almost 50 years later. The best Miles music never loses its edge or sounds dated. Miles Smiles is one his best.
All of the compositions are originals, with no standards to fall back on. Davis only contributed one composition of his own this time “Agitation,” the track was also the only one that went into the live book.
This willingness to allow other younger musicians to compose really enables Miles to get out of the 3 year rut he was in professionally, and this ability I believe fostered a new creative burst that lasted all the way until 1975.
Hard to imagine a better post bop album than Miles Smiles, in fact the Sony remaster didn’t even have any alternate takes. It was suggested in the liner notes, that only a brief run through of the music was talked out in studio, the tapes rolled, and Miles Smiles was laid to tape.
Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” is interesting: Miles changed the melody a little, the track has a very avant-garde feel, doesn’t seem at all the Heath tune: The quintet version is no doubt the definitive version.