I think I’ve changed my mind over the years on the relative merits of Miles Davis’s two Albums That Changed The Course Of Music. Bitches Brew was my introduction to Miles, and my early fave, since it was the album closest in sonic intensity to the rock music I grew up with. Kind Of Blue seemed, initially, tame by comparison.
Obviously, I was young and stupid, because the genius of Kind of Blue is that it is so accessible and likable even as it was groundbreaking. At least I was never one of those people who claimed that Kind of Blue veered close to, or even served as a progenitor for, the style of “music” known as Smooth Jazz. (Those claims were partly Miles’s own fault: when the radio station CD 101.9 started here in New York in the mid 80s, their format was basically smooth jazz – a mellow, hybrid, and to my ears completely emasculated type of pop/jazz that they promoted through TV ads featuring some notable musicians. And yes, they got Miles to do one. “CD 101.9,” he croaked, barely above a whisper. “Very cool. Like me.” That was it, but you knew that if the camera hadn’t cut away, the next line would’ve been “now gimme my money; I’m outta here.”)
Anyway, if you’re going to blame an album for what other people did after it, then you might as well consign Bitches Brew to the garbage can of history right now. This, after all, was the album that many people think unleashed the self-indulgent mess that was Jazz Fusion in the 70s. (Strangely, I’ve seen charges of proto-smooth-jazzism thrown at this album too.)
I’ve come to prefer Kind Of Blue – it’s a quieter, less obvious form of musical revolution, but it truly is revolutionary. Its sound now seems classic, while Bitches Brew, perhaps through no fault of Miles’, seems a little dated. But there’s still a time and a place for each album. Kind of Blue is a mellow evening with a joint and a friend; Bitches Brew is a coked-up night on the town. Kind of Blue is a seduction; Bitches Brew an orgy. (I like Gary Kamiya’s 1998 description of Bitches Brew as "In a Silent Way's evil outer-space brother.") I guess what I’m saying is, you kids stay in school. And stay away from those Miles Davis records.
Which Miles Davis album was greater, Bitches Brew or Kind Of Blue? Leave a comment.