Evocative of everyone’s best late nights
MUSIC ALBUM: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, released 1959, picked by MP John Hayes
Few, if any, albums deserve the epithet ‘masterpiece’ more than Kind of Blue. Miles Davis’s work didn’t so much shape its genre as define it - after its release in 1959 jazz was altered forever. Since when over four million copies have been sold worldwide. Timeless, it still sells at least 5,000 copies a week.
The album’s excellence is personified by the remarkable array of musicians assembled to make it. The contribution of exceptional saxophonist John Coltrane - whose technical musicianship, arguably, exceeded that of Davis himself - would alone have been enough to elevate the enterprise beyond the ordinary. When combined with the skills of Bill Evans - who some say crafted much of the record’s content, ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb the result is extraordinary. All went on to excel in their own right, but Coltrane subsequently produced some of jazz’s seminal works, notably Blue Train and A Love Supreme.
Davis’s brilliance lay in his insistence on improvisation; so that with nothing more than a few musical sketches and no rehearsals the combo recorded the whole album in just two days, with four of the five tracks laid on the first take.
Musically speaking, the extent of the spontaneity which epitomises Miles Davis’s enduring influence was made possible by freeing the participants from the constraints of a fixed chord sequence. With the tonal context being established solely by playing within a scale, the resultant escape from the limits of the blues’ 12 bar sequence produces music with an almost hypnotic melodic fluency, described by Jimmy Cobb as “made in heaven”.
The sound is sublimely cool – evocative of everyone’s best late nights.
This ‘modal’ approach was heralded on the title track of Milestones in 1958, though the remarkable efforts which proceeded Kind of Blue (Porgy and Bess) and followed it (Sketches of Spain) should also not be missed.
Kind of Blue’s faultless, sophisticated mood music is for all time, yet it has rarely been more salient – at a tense time when we all need space to relax there is little more relaxing than Miles Davis’s ‘masterpiece’.
A simple, laugh out loud film
FILM: Oh, Mr Porter, released 1937, picked by Spalding Guardian columnist John ward
I first saw this at the cinema and not through choice as I worked there as a projectionist and this formed part of a ‘Saturday Morning’ children’s club.
This goes back to the golden days of black and white films, or 1937 to be precise, and most certainly not in the ‘wide screen’ that we take for granted these days.
The plot concerns Mr Porter (comedian Will Hay) taking on the duties of station master in ‘Buggleskelly’ near the border in between South and Northern Ireland.
Together with Albert and Harbottle, his acquired in-situ staff (his comedic partners, Graham Moffat and Moore Marriott), they tackle most things a small country railway station of the era had to (possibly!) contend with, such as missing goods, disorganised train excursions, smugglers plus a ‘ghost’ in the form of ‘One Eyed Joe’.
Crammed into the 85 or so minutes are enough sub plots partly outlined above to laugh out loud at plus possibly one of the most iconic lines ever spoken on British film: “The next train’s gone!” when Harbottle is asked about train times by his new station master.
I have the DVD (before it was the VHS video tape) and I can’t think of anything better than to watch a simple, laugh out loud film with no bad language or anything untoward that has lasted decades now and still worth a look.
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