Miles Davis: Miles Smiles (1966) Columbia

miles-smiles-front-cover-1800-LJC-2

Selection: Footprints (Shorter)

Artists:

Miles Davis (trumpet) Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Tony Williams (drums) recorded Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC, October 24 and 25, 1966

Cultural Notes: October 1966 – an occasional reminder of the world outside jazz

1966Space Race!

Russia launches Luna 12 to orbit the Moon and the US poorly named  Lunar Orbiter 1 doesn’t , and instead crashes on the moon. Difficult to understand the attraction of the moon: the place has absolutely no atmosphere.

October 1966 was otherwise unexceptional – two Soviet, one French and one Chinese nuclear test (Russia wins on test average), a DC-9 airplane crashes with no survivors, a US nuclear reactor melts down, California became the first state to declare LSD illegal (despite claims that, on LSD, the state of California looks little different to without it).

On the cultural front, October ’66 sees the formation of the Jimmy Hendrix Experience, alledgedly the release of the  Rolling Stones first live album, and more significantly, Miles Davis kicks off with his second great quintet.

Music

Miles late Sixties studio recordings, coming after ESP (1965), commencing with  Miles Smiles (1966), then  Sorcerer (1967), Nefertiti (1967), Miles in the Sky (1968), and Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968). Beyond there, electric mayhem takes hold, audiophile interest wanes, and Miles designer wardrobe makes an entrance, with hint of gold lame trousers still to come, along with a pimp-role in Miami Vice. You think of all those boppers who never made it beyond the Sixties – with mixed feelings

Critical Opinion

Probably as much has been written about Miles Smiles as ground-breaking Kind of Blue. I will give the floor to other opinion before turning to our resident musicologist van Meerkat..

Meerkat-ProfessorAccording to musicologist Jeremy Yudkin: “Miles Smiles falls under the post-bop subgenre, which he defines as “an approach that is abstract and intense in the extreme, with space created for rhythmic and coloristic independence of the drummer—an approach that incorporated modal and chordal harmonies, flexible form, structured choruses, melodic variation, and free improvisation.”

Resident LJC musicologist Dimitri-Shostakovich van Meerkat says: “I agree with that

Music critic Stephen Erlewine (cited in Wiki) adds:  “It’s not just the fast, manic material that has an edge — slower, quieter numbers are mercurial, not just in how they shift melodies and chords, but how the voicing and phrasing never settles into a comfortable groove. This is music that demands attention, never taking predictable paths or easy choices. Its greatest triumph is that it masks this adventurousness within music that is warm and accessible — it just never acts that way. No matter how accessible this is, what’s so utterly brilliant about it is that the group never brings it forth to the audience. They’re playing for each other, pushing and prodding each other in an effort to discover new territory. As such, this crackles with vitality, sounding fresh decades after its release”.

Final word from LJC resident musicologist van Meerkat: “I agree with that too

So there you have it: a record heaped with praise which every jazz fan worthy of the name should own, endorsed by our resident musicologist. I recommend you track down the stereo for the most satisfactory musical experience.

meerkat-MC-VeeGee-Minus-LeftDon’t take my word for it. We ask resident sound engineering consultant MC VGee – a.k.a Compare-The-Pressing to give us his take on the mono and stereo editions.”Whadya think VGee? (Hey, anyone ever tell you look remarkably like the famous musicologist van Meerkat?”)
Give us a break LJC, a kat’s gotta eat. Comparing car insurance doesn’t pay the bills and times are hard in Musicology – thanks to the Internet, seems everyone thinks they are an expert. DJ’s make good money.

Listen to Footprints in mono, courtesy of the UK CBS/Oriole  edition, and flip back to the US stereo. It’s an education.

To me, it drags, it’s not got the vitality of the US stereo, and what ever happened to Tony Williams cymbals – did he show up for the date without?

Vinyl: CS 9401 US Columbia two-eye, stereo “360 Sound” white text + arrows,(First Pressing Fundamentalists should look away now) 1F stampers.

miles-smiles-labels-1800-LJC2

miles-smiles-rear-cover-1800-LJC2]

Collectors Corner

Having fallen in love with Columbia’s stereo recordings out of its 30th Street Studios, I bided my time waiting for a US stereo copy to surface in the UK – as I object to paying more in postal costs from the US than for the record. A UK CBS/Oriole press mono copy served as an unsatisfactory interim, which I couldn’t warm to, as the sheer spaciousness of the recording absolutely cries out for stereo, with Columbia’s soundstage extending magically several feet beyond the confines of each speaker.

My wait was rewarded:

Ebay Sellers Description:

“Rare, US,  1960’s vinyl  album with  great picture sleeve and plain white inner sleeve on the Columbia Record Label, CS 9401 (Stereo).

VINYL CONDITION – The vinyl is in  near mint condition with minimal signs of it being played.

LABEL –  Both labels are clean and free from any stickers, writing or tears.

SLEEVE CONDITION – The picture sleeve is in truly excellent condition with only very slight “foxing” on the rear sleeve – see photo.

This great Quintet featured Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Miles himself.”

Minimal sign of it being played.Yes, there is a god.  Strangely there was only one other bidder –  a German sniper with a history of bidding on  “Musik > Klassik & Oper”. The sniper’s low bid missed by a wide mark. Nice when once in a while things go right.

MC-VGee

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35 thoughts on “Miles Davis: Miles Smiles (1966) Columbia

  1. Hello all,
    someone had made the comment that your (LJC’s) stereo copy of the album wasn’t in fact an original pressing, which caused me to look at my own copy of this album, also in stereo. My copy’s labels, while containing the small CBS eye logo between MARCAS and REG, had the track listings of the songs completely messed up. It reads “Side One 1. Circle 2. Orbits 3. Dolores” and “Side Two 1. Freedom Jazz Dance 2. Ginger Bread Boy 3. Footprints”. I always thought it was odd that the tracks were completely flummoxed. Was this an issue unique to the first pressings or just to my specific album? I ask because it might be why (or partly why) they reprinted the labels for the subsequent pressings.

  2. The labels seen here look like that copy was pressed after 1968, albeit with c.1967 lacquers. It was around this period that Columbia would finally ditch the “NONBREAKABLE” blurb from below the catalogue number at left. An original pressing would have had the red color more an orangeish warm red, and the small eye logo within the curved rim print at bottom sandwiched between “MARCAS” and “REG.”

    • Hi W.B.
      My copy (stamped “DEMONSTRATION not for sale” on the jacket, matte labels and 1C/1B lacquers) doesn’t have “NONBREAKABLE” below the catalogue number on the label either, it however does have the small eye logo sandwiched between “MARCAS” and “REG.”

  3. I go along with that the stereo does have it’s charms!!
    but the mono orig press is danceble,. (all of a sudden)

  4. Very envious – a record which holds personal significance being the first truly ‘dfficult’ jazz record I bought. Listening to it over and over got me ‘in’ and from then on I was smitten. I recently succumbed to the latest Columbia CD because my two vinyl reissues – Oriole and CBS 80s – were poor. The CD is acually very nice nice but I’d rather have this edition.
    For me definitely the best of his 60s records. Not sure about the title and the marketing/cover design – it’s not like he’s playing calypso. It smacks of – we know you’re all bored with brooding Miles – how about happy Miles now that it’s the groovy 60s?

    • Hi Andy:

      not only the best of his ’60s period, but, I would dare say: the best of Miles, PERIOD.

      Miles Smiles is right up there with Kind of Blue, Relaxin’ with Miles Davis Quintet or Round About Midnight as the icing on the cake of the entire Miles Davis oeuvre and is, in my not-so-humble view way, way better and more solid in every imaginable way than any of his Gil Evans collaborations (yes, Sketches of Spain included). Yes, it is better than EVEN Bitches Brew or In a Silent Way or Dark Magus or Agartha or (yikes!) his Warner Brothers years when he was doing the covers of Cindy Lauper and the ’80s disco and proto-hip hop crowd. It is a near-flawless post-hard bop session from start to finish. For some reason, I do not find it difficult at all. It is a joy to listen on every level, and I never get tired of it. I would also dare say that Miles was at the absolute peak of his artistic and performing prowess: apparently, all the stars and the celestial bodies aligned properly for this glorious recording. The interplay between the players is nothing short of sheer magic and pure bliss: 10 hands, 50 fingers, only one gigantic brain.

      I find mono marginally preferable to stereo, but stereo does have it’s charms. If there is any flaw to it whatsoever, it is an awkward and somewhat unimaginative cover, but even the screaming, in-your-face burning day-glo red cover is not entirely without merit.

      By the way, my good buddy Bruce Dickinson, Sony/Columbia producer tells me that the year 1966 was, in his view, in many ways a cutoff/watershed year for Columbia’s legendary studio sound and production (read: the end of it) and that much of what would transpire at the label beyond this point would never be the quite the same as it was prior to 1966. Luckily, Teo Macero was still on hand to tie up some loose and underproduced ends, which were always in abundant supply when Miles was around. This may well be a much more significant reason for his shift toward fusion than his concerted and deliberate effort to lead Jazz in different direction.

      Now, at the risk of sounding off-topic, a few absolutely brilliant and must-see tips on record-cleaning and maintenance, particularly for those selling on eBay:

      • Thanks for posting this Bob – I just used the same method to clean my Blue Note originals but had to use Golden Syrup instead.
        On Miles Smiles – I certainly don’t find it difficult now – I was referring to when I bought it as a teenager. But I agree with your comments – and I’ve said before on this site that it is probably my favourite Miles LP. Thing is, I’ve recently updated my collection with all the records (albeit on CD for now) from the final Prestige dates (Steamin Walkin etc), which I didn’t have, and exploring them led me to consider the music produced as probably the most important and exciting of Miles entire body of work.
        Then I landed a nice 6-eye copy of Porgy and Bess and listening to it I thought: ‘Miles’ greatest work was the stuff he did with Gil Evans.
        You get the general drift.

        • Well, what can I say? We definitely have a mild disagreement when it comes to Miles’ Gil Evans work, Certainly, my views here are at odds with the rest of the humankind (nothing new here — been banging my own bass drum since the age of 0.1).

          Some of his Gil Evans sessions are indeed fabulous, and Porgy and Bess would definitely be on top of my fave list. Others, such as Quiet Nights, are an exercise in cosmic tedium and lack of inventiveness bordering on coma (though they do wonders for my insomnia, I have to say). Miles Ahead fares marginally better only because of it’s historical context — this must have sounded extraordinarily revolutionary back in 1956 — seven years ahead of Quiet Nights. But the passing of time has not been particularly gentle on Miles’ orchestrated and big band works. Certainly, his other works from the period fare much, much better.

          Sketches of Spain is a hybrid mutant alien animal from deep space. I can probably think of 100 other versions of Concierto de Aranjuez that would be more interesting and appealing to me than Miles’ version from Sketches of Spain. On the other hand, Solea is a sheer bliss, probably the finest piece of music either Miles Davis or Gil Evans (or any other jazzman, for that matter) ever created. So, yes, Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaborations are a mixed bag. I certainly would not be the prime target audience for Columbia’s ‘Complete Miles Davis-Gil Evans’ studio sessions box set, but, yes, I would (and do) own individual albums. Not all, of course: I tend to be moderately rational.

          By the way, how Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall didn’t make it to the Davis-Evans box set is truly beyond me. Yes, I know, the title of the set is ‘Complete STUDIO recordings’, but they could have made it “Complete Recordings’ by cutting out 5 (count ’em: FIVE) demo and alternative versions of at least four tracks. most of them entirely redundant,

          Personally, I love Gil Evans by himself (i.e., free of Miles, being that he never really goes solo). As long as he has Paul Chambers in his orchestra, I am happy. His ‘Individualism’ (Verve, 1963) suffers not one bit from the absence of Mr. Davis and is (ahem) Miles away from the never-ending stupor of Quiet Nights. Poor Michael Jackson — he probably would have been alive today had he discovered Quiet Nights instead of trying Milk of Amnesia first.

          Glad to hear that we are in total union of minds when it comes to Miles Smiles, though.

          Golden Syrup? What an AWESOME idea ! If you run out of it, you can also try krazy giue :-).

  5. To invoke the jealousy of my fellow LJC fans, I might have the Holy Grail of this. A still poly-bagged sealed white label promo of this in Stereo. I am getting tempted to open it up and grab a whiff of 1966 air..

  6. I love this sequence of recordings. Strangely enough I was playing this at the weekend — auditioning a very cheap early CBS one-eye pressing (not an original but very early) and it was in beautiful condition — apart from an audible scratch right across FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE. Someone loved it, I guess, but badly miscued the stylus one night after too many martinis…. I have to stick with my nasty 80s reissue….until something better comes along.

  7. I like the minimal feel of Tony’s cymbals. It is way better than the other extreme… “Chic Chic Chico” is a great record absolutely ruined by cymbal saturation. I can hardly stand it, and if it wasn’t for Gabor Szabo’s excellent playing, I would never listen to it.

    I like how Miles is mixed in the pocket on this album. Often, he is so much louder than anyone else (see every ballad ever) that the interplay between him and the rhythm section gets lost. But here we can feel it all. Lovely.

    Very jealous of your nice score, LJC. 🙂

  8. I used to have some of audiophile reissue (can’t remember the label) and it sounded pretty good. Then I found a NM original US mono for $20 in a store and couldn’t pass that up. Blows away the reissue which I have now given away. I think this mono sounds much better than Milestones or Kind of Blue in mono. Perhaps they changed their mono chain by then? Curious how it would be in stereo.

  9. LJC, my immediate reaction when listening to the UK edition was the same as yours – “it drags”. On closer inspection I found out that it even runs a fraction faster (by 0,52 percent, to be precise) than the US version. Nothing to worry about, BTW. – But “drag” it does, a psychological effect obviously created by the, uhm, slightly different sound. “Miles Smiles” was one of the first Miles Davis records I bought, immediately after it came out. Needless to say, it’s still among my all-time favourites. Just like “Seven Steps”.

  10. Also my favorite mid-period pre-fusion Miles. Terrific all around. I have a lovely original mono 2-eye that sounds delicious on my system. Everyone is right there, out front.

  11. A favourite mid-period Miles set. I particularly enjoy Freedom Jazz Dance. My own copy is a pre-recorded compact cassette PCT 9401, unplayed in this Millennium. Try getting hold of one of those these days. It has no sleeve notes and there is no indication as to whether it is stereo or mono- but it was great in the car on a sufficiently long journey. I’ll bet one of our regulars has got an 8 track version that they play from time to time in their near near perfect Jensen Interceptor!

  12. Ok. My favourite by the great second quintet. Not having a two-eye I have a nice 80s CD of this plus the Mosaic LP set. I’ve never heard how the originals compare but I’m more than happy with Mosaic’s edition. Hearing the live material on Plugged Nickel set and the more recent Miles Bootleg set really helps understand why this group really stood out in the sixties and beyond.

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