Thursday, May 25, 2006

heavenly orbs

"My Funny Valentine," Disc IIa, "The Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel," Miles Davis Quintet: Miles plays his first, short phrase 50 seconds in. He plays a second short one 13 seconds later. The interim is mainly taking up by Herbie Hancock's decaying piano sounds and silence. 13 seconds of two kinds of silence (soloist silence and total silence) is amazing (dangerous: when will he come back?), one of the rarest things in jazz, perhaps. Miles is notoriously not on top form on the Plugged Nickel set, but still has his moments. On MFV, it's as if the trumpeter himself is the valentine (and Shorter is the narrator?).


Contrary to the widespread vision of Coltrane as an impassioned spiritual figure and the rumours of LSD-fuelled later work, I see him as the most fanatically rationalist of improvisers. He's experimental in a strict scientific laboratory sense: concientiously changing one parameter at a time, until all possibilities have been exhausted. Nothing is left up to the imagination, nothing is left uncreated. Is there any other reason "One Down, One Up"'s title track lasts so long?

Paradoxically, it's this unflinching rationality, this hard, all-encompassing gaze, that vaults him back up onto the metaphysical plane, but more as an Old Testament god than a touchy-feely New Age icon. And despite all that, "Venus," on "Interstellar Space," contains some lovely melodic playing.


Miles's use of the wah-wah pedal is/was often decried as a crutch (for failing health, lack of chops, commercialism...), but, weirdly, Coltrane's tireless lack of concision (which he was certainly capable of) is celebrated and certainly never seen as a crutch.


As a reward for reading all that, here's the greatest site ever. Not quite safe for work, but it's for health & science.