Sketches of Spain

Davis, Miles and Gil Evans

album cover

A Milestone of Studio Orchestra Jazz

Miles Davis learned to play the trumpet in public, during the frantic mid-1940s outbreak known as bebop. For much of the 1950s, his development happened on two parallel tracks—his many small group sessions, and this and other large ensemble works arranged by Gil Evans.

The small groups encouraged Davis (1926–1991) to develop his technical facility, while the work with Evans forced him to pare things down to an essence of what needed to be said. Eventually, he jettisoned the glib bebop runs in favor of more isolated, often quixotic melodies. Sketches, the most ambitious of Davis and Evans's collaborative projects, was a key turning point in the trumpeter's development—in an interview decades later, Evans argued that the long sustained notes of Sketches forced Davis to "get his thing together."

The engrossing, unapologetically romantic music on this album demands extreme discipline—particularly the adaptation of Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and Evans's original "Saeta," which asks Davis to emulate the extended incantations of a Muslim prayer leader, or muezzin. "'Saeta' was the hardest thing for me to do on Sketches," Davis recalled in his autobiography. "To play parts on the trumpet where someone was supposed to be singing. Because you've got all those Arabic music scales in there, black African scales that you can hear. And they modulate and bend and twist and snake and move around."

Davis does his share of twisting through these lavish tone poems, which match his perpetually yearning expression with some of the most beautifully orchestrated large-ensemble writing in all of jazz. To prepare for the session, Evans studied flamenco and Spanish folk music. His lush and inviting backdrops provide Davis with all the "vibe" he needs to pull listeners out of the everyday grind and into a shadowy and surreal Andalusian landscape where the smallest gesture can seem heroic.

Genre: Jazz
Released: 1960, Columbia
Key Tracks: "Saeta," "Will o' the Wisp," "Adagio."
Catalog Choice: Porgy and Bess
Next Stop: Duke Ellington: The Far East Suite
After That: Wayne Shorter: Alegria
Book Page: 209

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