Final Effort With Davis' Classic Second Quintet Finds the Leader Looking to the Past and the Future
Miles in the Sky reflects the intriguing curiosities and rainbow possibilities suggested by the album cover. Miles Davis' fifth and final album with his classic second quintet is kaleidoscopic in sound, forward-looking in structure, and contextually grounded in approach. As the legendary leader's first venture into what would become fusion, it's historical for containing the premier appearances of electric piano, bass, and guitar on a Davis effort.
The album's wide-open soundscapes soar. As do the fluid contributions of Davis' mates. Tony Williams' percussion, central to every composition here, transpires before your eyes. Herbie Hancock's piano hovers and fades with sublime purity. And George Benson, who sits on "Paraphernalia," blows the equivalent of smoke rings with his bluesy guitar, which here takes on brilliant tonality and definition. The acoustic material that occupies the second half of the record is equally transparent and full-bodied.
Granted enhanced production and a greater field of audible information, Miles in the Sky can finally be perceived as belonging to the same upper echelon as Davis' ubiquitously acclaimed Nefertiti and Filles de Kilimanjaro – the albums that precede and follow, respectively, this watershed title. Commonly branded a "transitional" work, Miles in the Sky showcases Davis already at ease with electric instruments and eager to venture into uncharted territories. Doubling as organized jams and bridges between jazz and rock, both the rhythmically challenging "Stuff" and frisky "Paraphernalia" glancing toward the future while keeping solid footing in the past.
Similarly, so do "Country Boy" and "Black Comedy." In his original review for jazz authority DownBeat, Larry Kart observes: "Davis takes material from his earlier days and darkens its emotional tone. His opening phrase on ‘Country Boy' recalls a fragment from his "Summertime" solo on the Porgy and Bess album, but here it is delivered with a vehemence that rejects the poignancy of the earlier performance. Even on ‘Black Comedy,' his most straightahead solo here, the orderly pattern of the past is displaced and fragmented."
Flavored with humor, bossa nova, country, and even ballroom phrases, the compositions on Miles in the Sky explodes with creativity, purpose, and color.