Review by Thom Jurek
Along with Kind of Blue, In a Silent Way, and Round About Midnight, Sketches of Spain is one of Miles Davis' most enduring and innovative achievements. Recorded between November 1959 and March 1960 — after Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley had left the band — Davis teamed with British arranger Gil Evans for the third time. Davis brought Evans the album's signature piece, "Concierto de Aranjuez," after hearing a classical version of it at bassist Joe Mondragon's house. Evans was as taken with it as Davis was, and set about to create an entire album of material around it. The result is a masterpiece of modern art. On the "Concierto," Evans' arrangement provided an orchestra and jazz band — Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and Elvin Jones — the opportunity to record a classical work as it was. The piece, with its stunning colors and intricate yet transcendent adagio, played by Davis on a flügelhorn with a Harmon mute, is one of the most memorable works to come from popular culture in the 20th century. Davis' control over his instrument is singular, and Evans' conducting is flawless. Also notable are "Saeta," with one of the most amazing technical solos of Davis' career, and the album's closer, "Solea," which is conceptually a narrative piece, based on an Andalusian folk song, about a woman who encounters the procession taking Christ to Calvary. She sings the narrative of his passion and the procession — or parade — with full brass accompaniment moving along. Cobb and Jones, with flamenco-flavored percussion, are particularly wonderful here, as they allow the orchestra to indulge in the lushly passionate arrangement Evans provided to accompany Davis, who was clearly at his most challenged here, though he delivers with grace and verve. Sketches of Spain is the most luxuriant and stridently romantic recording Davis ever made. To listen to it in the 21st century is still a spine-tingling experience, as one encounters a multitude of timbres, tonalities, and harmonic structures seldom found in the music called jazz.
Q (1/00, p.134) - 5 stars out of 5 - "...fierce Spanish folk melodies...took orchestral jazz in a new direction....features Davis' trumpet in all its drifting, dry, abstract beauty."
Down Beat (p.61) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "With SKETCHES OF SPAIN, Davis' music continued its modal moves away from bebop's busy density, opting to highlight his strengths, which emphasized feeling and lyric expression over technique."
Down Beat (1960) - 5 Stars - Excellent - "...One of the most important musical triumphs that this century has yet produced....If there is to be a new jazz, a SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME, then this is the beginning..."
Goldmine - 3.5 Stars - "...Brilliantly remixed..."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.98) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "Almost panoramic in scope and fusing jazz with classical music, the album kicked off with an epic 16-minute version of Spanish composer Rodrigo's guitar concerto, transcribed for trumpet and orchestra."
In alphabetical order
Danny Bank — bass clarinet
Bill Barber — tuba
John Barrows — French horn
Albert Block — flute
James Buffington — French horn
Eddie Caine — flute, flugelhorn
Paul Chambers — bass
Earl Chapin — French horn
Jimmy Cobb — drums
Johnny Coles — trumpet
Miles Davis — trumpet, flugelhorn
Gil Evans — arranger, conductor
Harold Feldman — clarinet, flute, oboe
Bernie Glow — trumpet
Dick Hixon — trombone
Elvin Jones — percussion
Taft Jordan — trumpet
Jack Knitzer — bassoon
Jose Mangual — percussion
Jimmy McAllister — tuba
Tony Miranda — French horn
Louis Mucci — trumpet
Romeo Penque — oboe
Janet Putnam — harp
Frank Rehak — trombone
Ernie Royal — trumpet
Joe Singer — French horn
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