What the hell is going on with Miles' Second Great Quintet?

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I've been struggling with Filles & Miles In the Sky & Sorceror & Water Babies for nearly a year now, putting them on over and over and struggling to discern the underlying structure in some of the more difficult tunes. I feel like it's all sailing over my head: all I'm hearing is largely formless and often boring 14 minute jams. I love everything before and after this stuff, but the whole freebop thing just isn't clicking.

What am I missing?

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Friday, 20 April 2007 00:54 (fifteen years ago) link

Try learning the form by getting the melody down really well and then try to hear/sing the melody over every solo chorus. It's not easy, but if you can do it you'll realize there's more form there than you initially thought.

Hurting 2, Friday, 20 April 2007 02:33 (fifteen years ago) link

Also a lot of the best moments come from the interplay - Miles plays a phrase, leaves a big space, Herbie makes a little utterance, Tony Williams punctuates.

Hurting 2, Friday, 20 April 2007 02:34 (fifteen years ago) link

I second the above, plus...

The Plugged Nickel recordings (or any '65-'67 live bootleg) might be a better starting point, since you get to hear their working process applied to older repertoire. Plus, sometimes what you're hearing is formless -- the only unifying factor at times may be an implied tonal center, so you're left with an urbane, rhythmically playful version of Ornette's early quartets.

Later stuff like Filles and Water Babies, well, they tend toward the "boring 14 minute jams" side of things. (There's a reason why Teo Macero was called upon to edit a finished take on occasion.) But think of them as logical (and worthy) precursors to In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

In either case, don't feel like you have to follow every second of it -- these are dense streams of conversation and you (unlike the quintet) have the luxury of drifting in and out of the proceedings as it suits you.

mark 0, Friday, 20 April 2007 09:22 (fifteen years ago) link

I was initially a bit baffled by the high reputation of the 2nd great quintet -- but I've grown to really love them. There's not much else like this, in jazz or any other genre. The big epiphany for me was ESP, which might be the most accessible one. Awesome playing all around, pure melody throughout. It's the sense of space and the lightness of touch that I like the most -- at once barely there, but also really powerful.

tylerw, Friday, 20 April 2007 15:35 (fifteen years ago) link

Maybe start with Four + More or even Miles Smiles and work forward? The interplay is there, but they're playing standards (or in the case of MS some simpler tunes like Footprints and Freedom Jazz Dance) so you can hear the form a little more.

Jordan, Friday, 20 April 2007 15:43 (fifteen years ago) link

Water Babies is my favorite, but Sorcerer is also great (except for that Bob Dorough track tacked on to the end). Least favorite: Miles In The Sky. That's the one where I really feel like they don't know exactly what they're trying to accomplish, so they just keep playing hoping it'll come to 'em.

unperson, Friday, 20 April 2007 15:44 (fifteen years ago) link

Miles Smiles is a good starting point, and also has the benefit of being the best record in which George Benson has ever been involved.

Marcello Carlin, Friday, 20 April 2007 15:47 (fifteen years ago) link

You mean Miles in the Sky?

Jordan, Friday, 20 April 2007 15:52 (fifteen years ago) link

Sorcerer was one of the first jazz albums I bought (knew the names, had a cool title) and I couldn't listen to it for years. I actually like the Bob Dorough track though, it comes out of nowhere.

Jordan, Friday, 20 April 2007 15:53 (fifteen years ago) link

Quite right, Miles In The Sky (bangs head on coal bunker)...

Marcello Carlin, Friday, 20 April 2007 16:03 (fifteen years ago) link

If you take Nefertiti as a starting track, the horns just play the melody over and over again and you can focus on what the rhythm section is doing.

I think you can sort of extend that concept to the last track on Water Babies - Dual Mr. Anthony Tillman Williams Process or whatever it's called - a long jam where it's still easy to hear the form because they keep using the same two figures over and over again under the solos. (Plus it's a sick groove.)

The same is also sort of true of Mademoiselle Mabry from Filles de Kilamanjaro - the accompaniment follows the same basic chordal and rhythmic figures throughout all the solos. I really love jazz tunes that do that.

Hurting 2, Friday, 20 April 2007 16:10 (fifteen years ago) link

Title track of Sorcerer is good because it has a very short, simple chord progression that's pretty easy to hear in the comping.

Hurting 2, Friday, 20 April 2007 16:11 (fifteen years ago) link

I would say it's also worth checking out some of the Wayne Shorter Blue Notes (Speak No Evil onwards) just to underline where he was coming from in relation to Miles' music.

Marcello Carlin, Friday, 20 April 2007 16:12 (fifteen years ago) link

Another thing - turn the bass up on your stereo so you can hear how Ron Carter underpins things - that might ground the forms for you a bit more.

Hurting 2, Friday, 20 April 2007 16:16 (fifteen years ago) link

"Turn the bass up" is also a good rule-of-thumb for any jazz recording made prior to the first Mahavishnu LP.

mark 0, Friday, 20 April 2007 16:25 (fifteen years ago) link

That's true, and one of the best things about CDs was that, as one reviewer remarked, "you can finally hear the acoustic bass, rather than just sensing where it probably is." And that was even before CDs had good bass, but it was more than a lot of us had heard. (As an engineer put it back then, "A really good stereo will kick the ass of a really good CD player, but a cheap CD player will kick the ass of a cheap record player, " and most of us true music lovers spent all our money on the discs, be they PVC or aluminum-coated paper, so his statement sold me on the great transition.) But Water Babies wasn't meant by Miles to be released, apparently; it was more likely Columbia trying to recoup their losses on his advances, when he went into hibernation for about five years, also they were still trying to get some more of that Bitches Brew money, though I don't think he had any more late 60s/early 70s that sold so well. Miles In The Sky was one of his worst-selling of the 60s; Tony Williams said that came out around the time when they were getting maybe 50 people at a concert, in NYC, no less. Filles is very transitional, and I've always thought Herbie was too vague (as a player, not a tunesmith), until Miles made him go further out, and kept an eye on him. (Like on The Complete Jack Johnson, he makes the mistake of stopping by the studio on his way home from the market, and Miles makes him sit down, with his groceries thawing, and play a new keyboard gizmo for the first time, and it sounds great!)

dow, Friday, 20 April 2007 22:35 (fifteen years ago) link

I love the Herbie-sitting-on-his-left-hand thing on Miles Smiles.

Jordan, Friday, 20 April 2007 22:40 (fifteen years ago) link

Nefertiti was the only one of these I could ever get into. Its distinguishing characteristic seems to be these long, drawn out melodic phrases, they have a very wistful, drifting quality to them, like they're moving through several different keys at a really lazy pace.

Shakey Mo Collier, Friday, 20 April 2007 22:44 (fifteen years ago) link

For what it's worth, I just picked up Nefertiti today and I feel like I've made some major inroads into getting this stuff.

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Sunday, 22 April 2007 03:46 (fifteen years ago) link

I'd like to rerecommend ""Four" and More", I just got it and it took my head off (I miss you, head). It's pretty damn dense but as mentioned the material's basically familiar and it's so fucking astounding that you can get into it purely by way of enjoyment, not much figuring out to be done, on the objective level anyway. Rhythm section stays nicely tight mostly, aiding following. What was "Four" on otherwise anyway?

PS- doesn't feature Wayne S tho so is maybe not really part of this period, good primer tho surely

PPS- and whatever whatever it's GREAT so yeah.

President Evil, Sunday, 22 April 2007 03:52 (fifteen years ago) link

I just got it and it took my head off (I miss you, head).

This sentence is my favorite thing of today.

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Sunday, 22 April 2007 03:54 (fifteen years ago) link

two months pass...


Got this yesterday. Really interesting.

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Monday, 16 July 2007 00:03 (fourteen years ago) link

Is it good? I haven't heard any of the VSOP stuff, though it's intriguing in theory. I have heard the "Tribute To Miles" CD from the early 90s, which has Herbie, Tony, Wayne, Ron and ummmm someone else who isn't Freddie Hubbard. It's pretty OK!

tylerw, Monday, 16 July 2007 13:52 (fourteen years ago) link

I can't speak to this, but the Leo Smith/Henry Kaiser electric Miles tribute band is pretty cool.

Oilyrags, Monday, 16 July 2007 13:59 (fourteen years ago) link

I like this one a lot.

If the 60s SGQ stuff is on one side of a wall and Bitches Brew is on the other, this stuff stands firmly in the former territory but is making an effort to fuck the bricks.

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Monday, 16 July 2007 14:07 (fourteen years ago) link

I have heard the "Tribute To Miles" CD from the early 90s, which has Herbie, Tony, Wayne, Ron and ummmm someone else who isn't Freddie Hubbard.

Probably Wallace Roney? He was the trumpeter in the Tony Williams quintet I saw in '91 or '92. He even stood like Miles! Fine show that was - Tony played the most musical drum solo I've ever heard, and employed only tomtoms, didn't hit the snare or cymbals even once.

(Incidentally, I've never been crazy about those '67-69 Miles recs either - not high-strung enough for my tastes.)

Myonga Vön Bontee, Monday, 16 July 2007 14:31 (fourteen years ago) link

Yeah i think that's the guy. He's good! Though Tony Williams kind of owns that set. Sounds like he's pretty determined to not let things get too maudlin, despite the occasion.

tylerw, Monday, 16 July 2007 14:37 (fourteen years ago) link

i never listened to that VSOP album more than a few times, i should revisit but i remember it having some really great moments but on the whole being pretty boring and poorly recorded

deej, Monday, 16 July 2007 14:38 (fourteen years ago) link

Yeah, I'm not a fan of the VSOP stuff.

Hurting 2, Monday, 16 July 2007 14:44 (fourteen years ago) link

Roney was also Miles' understudy at that Montreux Jazz Festival event where Davis and Quincy Jones ran through the orchestral material. He was there just in case Miles couldn't hack it, but his services were not required, as it turned out.

unperson, Monday, 16 July 2007 14:47 (fourteen years ago) link

Geri Allen's husband, as I recall. I've got an album with the two of them (and some other folks) doing originals in a SGQ style.

Oilyrags, Monday, 16 July 2007 14:52 (fourteen years ago) link

Sorry, my mistake, it's Carlos McKinney playing piano on this record.


Oilyrags, Monday, 16 July 2007 14:57 (fourteen years ago) link

I was just listening to that recent Wayne Shorter quartet with Danilo Perez, John Patatucci (sp?), and Brian Blade and thinking about how much the Miles quintet sound owed to Shorter's compositions.

Hurting 2, Monday, 16 July 2007 15:19 (fourteen years ago) link

Shorter is amazing yeah

deej, Monday, 16 July 2007 15:24 (fourteen years ago) link

one year passes...

Having finally heard the Complete Plugged Nickel I think I get it now.

BIG HOOS aka the steendriver, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 00:12 (thirteen years ago) link

seven months pass...

Tony Williams on "Footprints" is breaking my head. The 4/4 samba (I think?) stuff against the 6/4 tune is @_@

The Reverend, Thursday, 23 April 2009 01:33 (thirteen years ago) link

nice tune too

The Reverend, Thursday, 23 April 2009 01:33 (thirteen years ago) link

That would be a good song to do a "Hey Jazz D-Bags! Post a version or several of..." thread for.

WmC, Thursday, 23 April 2009 01:58 (thirteen years ago) link

yeah, that metric modulation shit on footprints is all-time. so influential too (like all the similar stuff that wynton did with his '80s band, just for one).

Ømår Littel (Jordan), Thursday, 23 April 2009 02:06 (thirteen years ago) link

Here is a discussion of "Footprints" that was linked to once before, but the images seem to be missing http://www.bassplayer.com/article/ron-carters-groove/aug-03/794

moe greene dolphin street (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 23 April 2009 02:18 (thirteen years ago) link

ohhh 'footprints' is probably my favorite tune from this quintet. talk about the 'lightness of touch' mentioned upthread & also how carter's bass line totally underpins things.

i had these albums for a couple of years and like hoos i couldn't really discern what was going on. but one time 'footprints' just totally clicked for me, it really became my gateway into this period, and after that i started to really see the genius behind these albums. i think this is my favorite miles period tbh

mark cl, Thursday, 23 April 2009 13:06 (thirteen years ago) link

and 'miles smiles' prob my favorite album from this band, maybe my favorite miles ever

mark cl, Thursday, 23 April 2009 13:08 (thirteen years ago) link

Tony Williams on "Footprints" is breaking my head. The 4/4 samba (I think?) stuff against the 6/4 tune is @_@

Sometimes I think that Tony Williams was sent from another planet.

Bill Magill, Thursday, 23 April 2009 13:17 (thirteen years ago) link

think i mentioned it on another Miles thread, but I've been knocked out by the recently released Monterey 1963 set (featuring the pre-Shorter band). Just an amazingly sweet performance -- and yeah, Williams sounds ridiculous. I mean, he was what 17 or 18 at that point -- and he OWNS that band. Must've had incredible confidence in his abilities. Or he just didn't know any better!

tylerw, Thursday, 23 April 2009 15:03 (thirteen years ago) link

six years pass...


"Tony and I had got into the habit of playing all kinds of mixed rhythms ... so we started playing some of those rhythm things behind Miles too, things that were hard to predict, would sometimes swing and sometimes float. The first night we did it he stopped a lot in his solos, jerked around as if he was uncomfortable, not sure what to do, trying to find his way. Next day, he was more at ease, playing longer phrases, but still not into it. Then by the last set on the next day, he wasn't struggling with it any more at all. In fact he played so many unexpected things himself that it was me that was jerking around! In less than 24 hours Miles had not just grabbed the ball, but run beyond us with it."

j., Saturday, 4 July 2015 17:04 (six years ago) link

eight months pass...

does anyone know exactly what is going on on the title track of "Nefertiti"? It sounds like Miles' horn line is either being double-tracked a bit behind the beat, or double-tracked with a delay, or (although it doesn't sound like this to me) being doubled a bit out of time by another horn, maybe the saxophone? Is this just Macero at work here? It's a great effect but I'm curious how it was done, since this pre-dates a lot of the more aggressive shit Macero did later.

Οὖτις, Friday, 18 March 2016 23:04 (six years ago) link

it's just Miles and Wayne Shorter playing off each other. but yeah, around 5:25 in, they do a nice faux-echo effect sans any editing at all

Dominique, Friday, 18 March 2016 23:10 (six years ago) link

their tones are so close! it's uncanny

Οὖτις, Friday, 18 March 2016 23:13 (six years ago) link

four years pass...

I've been losing it over Water Babies this week, it's the only record of this era I hadn't heard. I think I thought it was another electric era live show bootleg that got repackaged, or something?

Anyway, it's so spacious and effortless and playful, and sounds amazing. It captures this moment when they moved away from swing, but it's still super rhythmic and interactive without a backbeat for the most part. The straight 8th approach makes it sound like it could have come out today, or maybe it's a Rosetta stone for a lot of contemporary groups.

change display name (Jordan), Wednesday, 10 March 2021 22:44 (one year ago) link

God I love it so much too. Always thought I was crazy for loving it so much! Just a perfect vibe.

brimstead, Wednesday, 10 March 2021 23:45 (one year ago) link

Wayne Shorter does a couple of those tunes on Super Nova too but they’re pretty different

brimstead, Wednesday, 10 March 2021 23:46 (one year ago) link


J. Sam, Thursday, 11 March 2021 03:25 (one year ago) link

W. Process is the secret sauce, he crushes it on that track

longtime caller, first time listener (man alive), Thursday, 11 March 2021 04:31 (one year ago) link

Water babies has artwork by same guy who did On The Corner. Probably because it wasn't released for a few years after recording.

Stevolende, Thursday, 11 March 2021 06:50 (one year ago) link

I’m a big fan of the “silently judging” lil dude in the ill fitting suit

brimstead, Thursday, 11 March 2021 22:59 (one year ago) link

big fan of the artwork on this 80s reissue:


nobody like my rap (One Eye Open), Friday, 12 March 2021 17:05 (one year ago) link


nobody like my rap (One Eye Open), Friday, 12 March 2021 17:05 (one year ago) link

Miles is glowering at some kids playing in a fire hydrant spray just off camera.

Halfway there but for you, Friday, 12 March 2021 17:10 (one year ago) link

haha so much (mostly) unintentional hilarity surrounding this album. I <3 JAZZ!

J. Sam, Friday, 12 March 2021 17:12 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

e.s.p. is just the greatest goddamn album ever

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Friday, 13 May 2022 14:49 (one week ago) link

My son bought the big 20 Original Albums box and I've been gradually working my way through it chronologically. Some I have heard previously of course, but some are brand new listens for me. I'm just about to start on this period, beginning with E.S.P., so I'll use this thread as a reference.

Three Rings for the Elven Bishop (Dan Peterson), Friday, 13 May 2022 15:41 (one week ago) link

There are many days where I think this is probably the greatest combination of five utterly god tier musicians to have ever played together

Muad'Doob (Moodles), Saturday, 14 May 2022 00:27 (one week ago) link

Water Babies sounds amazing right now, thanks thread!

corrs unplugged, Monday, 16 May 2022 07:54 (six days ago) link

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