|1. Dr. Jekyll|
|2. Sid's Ahead|
|3. Two Bass Hit|
|5. Billy Boy|
|6. Straight, No Chaser|
Some readers might wonder why I've chosen to review a classic jazz album on a progressive music forum. My justification is twofold.
First, I've already written a review of In A Silent Way, Miles's late-1960s album which paved the way for Bitches Brew and the subsequent jazz-fusion genre. Since it doesn't make sense to review only selective albums by any given artist on the Tentative Reviews list, Milestones is fair game as well.
Second (and more importantly), progressive rock of the 1970s has significant roots in the jazz stylings of the 1950s. This fact has generally has not been recognized in mainstream rock histories, wherein "prog" is frequently regarded as having been initiated by middle-class English kids as a elitist rejection of "roots" rock stylings. Perhaps if Dave Marsh and his ilk would integrate jazz history into their accounts of the last 40-odd years of music, progressive rock would have more of a historical context. Which may be why they don't do so. By writing this review in the general context of "progressive album reviews", I hope to encourage a greater understanding of these historical links (irrespective of the quality of this particular review itself).
I should note that, despite the links and similarities, my knowledge of pre-fusion jazz is significantly lower than my knowledge of progressive music. For this reason, I will attempt to keep my comments fairly concise.
The historiography surrounding Milestones (from what I've gathered by reading various Miles-based websites) seems to suggest that many fans consider it to be one of his best albums. I would not disagree with this assessment. The album is extremely good.
"Dr. Jekyll" begins the album on a powerful note. After an amazingly virtuosic introduction (everyone in this band was a master of his instrument), Davis takes a rather "busy" solo above some truly remarkable performances by the rhythm section. After this, Adderley & Coltrane trade some incredibly fast solos, Garland briefly takes the spotlight, Chambers gets in a string-bass solo, and Davis returns again. It's extremely masterful, and extremely musical.
"Sid's Ahead" begins with a more traditional jazz line, but quickly shifts into other territories. Davis, Adderley and Coltrane all take extended solos in the main body of this song, with the rhythm section making clever shifts throughout the work. It should go without saying that all three combine musicality and technical skills in an impressive manner; Davis's solo is also notable for his particular success in making the instrument "speak". After a few mini-spotlights by the other band members (the brief background piano lines are a nice touch), Davis another, expressive solo. The piece then concludes with a reprise of the original line.
John Lewis -- the composer of "Two Bass Hit" -- is known for having crossed the boundaries between classical and jazz musics, and this track shows off his writing skills quite well: clearly jazzy in content, the structure of the piece is such that comparisons to modern classical music are more than appropriate. This piece is primarily a spotlight for Adderley and Coltrane, with Jones's fills adding quite a bit as well.
Easily the most tuneful track on the album is "Miles", a concise and melodic number which showcases Davis's ability to write catchy and memorable songs (without losing the music in the process, of course). While Adderley and especially Coltrane contribute well to this track, Miles is clearly the star here (as would seem to be appropriate). A highlight, in its own way.
Davis, Adderley and Coltrane step out of the spotlight for "Billy Boy", which sees Red Garland take the lead for the first time on the album. Without a single brass note in the entirety of the piece, Garland runs through numerous variations (and a few repetitions) of the main theme, with Jones and Chambers adding the appropriate fills at the right moments. The links between pre-fusion jazz and early progressive music may be most evident in this piece; it's certainly easy to imagine Keith Emerson being impressed by it, for example.
Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" ends the album on a much more subtle note, and features what seems to be the Miles solo of the album about halfway through. Coltrane and Adderley add their amazingly fast solos as well, and the piano and rhythm section fill their roles perfectly. A fitting end to an extremely rewarding album.
This album features virtuousity, strength of composition, and interesting combinations of instruments. I can't see why any fan of progressive music wouldn't like this.
(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 18 December 1997)