The History of the Albums - n° 103
Porgy and Bess pt.2 // Miles Bonus
[I invite you to read the first part with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's review, as well as my previous reviews on Miles Davis, you'll find the list below, to better understand it]
To sum up, Porgy and Bess is basically a book first adapted to opera by George Gershwin, then taken up by many musicians of all kinds, before reaching the world of jazz from the second half of the 1950s. At the present time, there are more than a hundred albums of adaptations with more or less success, by different artists who have covered Porgy and Bess, however if we have to choose only one, I would say without hesitation that of Miles Davis released in April 1959. Just a few months before the release of his absolute masterpiece Kind of Blue, Miles Davis was probably the best known, most fashionable and most innovative jazzman at that time. He had already revolutionized several jazz styles/sub-styles, lately he had released Milestones which was the first Modal work and shortly before that he had finished his year 1957 by releasing Miles Ahead which we can say is also one of the first real Experimental Big Band album with the help of Gil Evans.
Experimental Big Band is a Jazz style that appeared in the second half of the 50's with artists first with Sun Ra and his orchestra and then by Miles Davis. As its name suggests, this style can be described in several ways, the first being played by a bid band [a very large group of musicians], the second was to explore world works often drawn from classical or avant-garde music, and then the last incorporated elements of free jazz. In the end Free Jazz and L'experimental Big Bad are very similar styles that play to only one real difference, the composition and the number of participating musicians. With Porgy and Bess, Miles Davis had not created this style, but he greatly participated in its development and democratization (as usual), which will have a lot of influence on the jazz of the 60s and 70s. In fact, Miles Davis had always had a visionary side which allowed him to be ahead of the others but also to put his paw on it. At the end of the 50's, big bands were out of fashion and more and more rare. They were often associated with swing and bebop, traditional jazz styles that were already more than 40 years old. Miles Davis thought at that time that bebop had already been fully explored, so he had the ambition to bring to Porgy and Bess a totally different vision of big bands.
In 1958, he called on Gil Evans again to help him create the adaptation of Porgy and Bess. They returned to the studio on several dates in July and August, accompanied by almost twenty musicians, regulars who often worked with Miles such as Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers or Philly Joe Jones, as well as newcomers. Basically Miles Davis had been thinking about the subject for a long time, but he said he was inspired by the ideas of George Russell, who was known to be more than just a pianist, he was also an excellent composer/arranger who had visionary theories about music. The musical direction of Porgy and Bess is inspired by his theories but also by Davis' various recent experiences between Milestones, Miles Ahead and The Birth of The Cool. In order to overturn the conceptual idea of big bands and bebop, he decided to incorporate several styles/genre, such as cool jazz, which he mastered perfectly with Gil Evans, classical music [symphonies, notably] and a bit of modal, in order to bypass the codes and change them in a significant way.
The huge advantage of the Davis/Evans pair is that they already had impressive material and financial means, but also the total freedom that the Columbia label gave them. Honestly I love the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong adaptation so much, but this one is on a straotospheric level. You can see that from the first minutes of Buzzard Song, the introduction to Porgy and Bess. Here you are at the point of sophistication and pure beauty that Jazz can provide. It becomes so real, so immersive. Unlike the Ella & Louis version, this one has no vocals, but the orchestra is so brilliant, led by one of the best Gil Evans in history, that he can draw the dialogues for you. The word recommended is not strong enough for this album.
Related albums I've reviewed:
1957 > Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool
1957 > Miles Davis – 'Round About Midnight
1957 > Miles Davis – Miles Ahead
1958 > Miles Davis - Relaxin' With the Miles Davis Quintet
1958 > Miles Davis – Milestones
1959 > Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Porgy and Bess