Posted: October 5th, 2008
I never waited as impatiently for a boxed set to be released as I did for this one. I assumed that the only thing that could possibly be better than In A Silent Way was The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions, because there would be so much more of it. Now that I have it all to enjoy (!), I’m finally able to appreciate the full magnitude of the original release of In A Silent Way. After withstanding three decades of overplay, In A Silent Way remains a mysterious, urgently necessary, life-affirming masterpiece that stands outside anything Miles or anybody else has ever recorded. When I first got the box, I had the insane expectation that I was about to hear some unreleased music on par with the original album. Looking back, I don’t know how I could even think such a thing was possible. Maybe it’s because I vividly imagine a bunch of record label executives huddled together late at night in smoke filled rooms listening to the best music ever while secretly conspiring to keep it eternally locked in the vaults for their own sinister pleasure. But whether or not such theories hold their water, I have come to accept the old single-disc version of In A Silent Way for what it has always been: COMPLETE.
The full and unedited In A Silent Way session—40 minutes of music recorded on February 18, 1969—attests to the producing genius of Teo Macero. As the raw session tapes remained unreleased for years, their contents were the subject of intense speculation and conjecture. Some claimed that Miles had only taped 27-minutes of music that day, forcing Macero to heavily edit the session in order to fill the space of an album. Others insisted that Macero had overproduced the album, wheedling down a double-album’s worth of material to make a single one, denying listeners the complete and unexpurgated brilliance of Miles’ music.
With the release of The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions, featuring “all that was committed to tape on that day,” these assertions have given way to the truth. Just as Michael Jackson had his Quincy Jones and the Beatles had their George Martin, Miles too had his perfect creative foil in producer Teo Macero. This is made clear when one hears the previously unissued and uncut performances from the February 18 In A Silent Way session. While it is fascinating to hear the music in its organic form, it lacks the focus and power of the edited material found on the album. It took a force like Teo to splice together a cohesive album out of so many inspired pieces. Not only did Teo have the balls to stand up to Miles on creative decisions, he had the right. And Miles knew it.
For Miles was much more than a great musician, he was a great leader, and one of the hallmarks of great leadership is the ability to share power with those who deserve it. Miles had an almost supernatural ability to sense talent in others. Throughout his life, he surrounded himself with extraordinary people who challenged him creatively, expanding and extending his musical powers, pushing him in new directions. A mentor to so many talented musicians, Miles remained fresh because he never stopped growing, always absorbing what those around him had to offer.
He profoundly understood that no man is wise enough by himself. And while his ego rebelled against any producer messing with his music, Miles knew that incredibly great records were borne out of the conflict and compromise of his relationship with Teo. So with a watchful eye and wary ear, Miles kept Teo around, letting him do his thing, tightening the leash when necessary. With Miles’ direction, Teo chopped the hell out of the In A Silent Way tapes, substantially rearranging what was actually played in the studio on that February day. A new musical collage emerged from Miles’ rough draft of genius. The finished whole was greater than the raw sum its parts.
Miles was going through exciting musical changes in 1968, hearing and playing things which were leading him into the future and into In A Silent Way. His playing and lifestyle were being influenced by a wave of new sounds and ideas, and he was responding deeply to the music of James Brown, Sly Stone, and Jimi Hendrix. Having already pushed acoustic jazz to the limits with his mid-Sixties quintet, Miles metamorphosed the new music around and within him, creating a work of enduring magnificence. On the title track, Miles threw away Joe Zawinul’s chord sheets, transforming the keyboardist’s original melody of “In A Silent Way” into a sublime electric mantra that was overwhelmingly beautiful and fresh. On “Shhh/Peaceful,” Dave Holland’s simple bass line and John McLaughlin’s drone-like guitar intertwine with Tony Williams driving hi-hat rhythms to create a circularly repeating groove. The three pianos of Hancock, Corea, and Zawinul play as extensions of one another, perfectly washing across the spaces left open in the rhythm. Miles trumpet crosses the language barrier, articulating emotions that can’t be put into words.
Egos gave way to unity in these miraculous sessions that spaned a six-month period from 1968-69. Without exception, the sense one gets from hearing the unfiltered music on The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions is that Miles and his partners had exceeded themselves, pushing beyond what they’d previously known as possible, discovering something something alive and electric, something spiritual—making it physical, making it stick.
In A Silent Way represents one of the most important self-declarations of artistic independence to ever go down in jazz history. This was not “jazz” aimed at its traditional audience, but rather a monstrous new thing that, once unleashed, would bring about some unexpected changes to music in general. While The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions offers a lot of incredibly great new music to enjoy, the original In A Silent Way has the singular power to transport the listener to heavenly places.
- Miles Davis – Trumptet
- Wayne Shorter – Saxophone
- Herbie Hancock – Electric Piano
- Chick Corea – Electric Piano
- Josef Zawinul – Electric Piano and Organ
- John McLaughlin – Guitar
- Dave Holland – Bass
- Tony Williams – Drums
- Joe Chambers – Drums
- Jack DeJohnette – Drums, Tambourine
- Teo Macero – Tambourine, Producer
- Mademoiselle Mabry
- Frelon Brun
- Two Faced
- Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams Process
- Directions I
- Directions II
- In A Silent Way (rehearsal)
- In A Silent Way
- It’s About That Time
- The Ghetto Walk
- Early Minor
- Shhh/Peaceful (LP Version)
- In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time (LP Version)