TOP STORIES

Lucas G.'s avatar

Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” Changed How I Think About Music

Posted by Lucas G. on 03/27/14 | Filed under Opinion, Non Hip-Hop, Classic Albums, Jazz, Miles Davis

So much of what I write and focus on is about either what's happening now, or what is is going to happen in the future, and of course, boobs. Sure we may talk about the '90s frequently too, but rarely do we go back to the classic classics. As I mentioned earlier this week, I finally got a proper turntable set-up and I have been tearing through my fledgling collection. I started with newer stuff like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--"Devil In a New Dress" on vinyl is a revelation--and Good Kid m.A.A.d City. once I burned through those it was time to dig into the classics.

First on my list, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Now when it comes to jazz, I know next to nothing. I really love it, and have a few songs here and there, but I'm essentially a Jazz noob. Obviously, Miles Davis is a name I know (in part because of Billy Madison) and I have heard rumblings about Bitches Brew. When I saw it in the record store I knew it was a must have, even though it put me over my $30 budget for my monthly record store visit (buying records is more addictive than crack, and if you can easily drop much more than you can afford much quicker than you realize). When the guy at the counter praised my pick, I knew I was in for a treat, but I didn't know quite what to expect....he was was right. 

Before we get into the music, how about a little history lesson; it's importantly to fully grasp just how monumental this album is. Though Jazz was (and still is) improvisational and free-form, like any genre they had standards, limit, and rigid rules for what people could or could not do. It seems to me, that before Bitches Brew, there was room for Jazz artists to experiment, but they were still limited as any transgression outside the normal boundaries would not be well-received. Sort of like hip-hop no?

But then along came Bitches Brew. Along with an extensive ensemble full of multiple pianists, bassist, and drummers, Davis even included some electric instrumentation, which to my knowledge had never been attempted. The most amazing part, it was all improvisational. We are talking 10-20 artists (some playing the same instrumental) all playing together with no rules, arrangements or guidelines. To quote Ralph J. Gleason, who wrote the piece featured on the inside cover.

This music is new. this music is new music and it hits me like an electric shock and the word "electric" is interesting because to some degree electric music either by virtue of what you can do with tapes and by the process of which it is preserved on tape or by the use of electricity in the actual making of the sounds themselves....Miles hears and what he hears he paints with. when he sees he heres, eyes are just an aid to hering if you think about it that way. it's all in there, the beauty, the terror, and the love, the sheer humanity of life in this incredible electric world which is so full of distortion that it can be beautiful and freighting in the same instant.

Okay, now you have to listen right? It might seem like he is the world's greatest hypeman, but honestly, he is right. The first listen to the album can be a little, um, trying. There is so much going on, so much to listen to and it is all happening at the same time. Think of it like a 16 ring circus where everyone is performing all at once and you want to watch each and every thing but don't know where to focus. It takes adjusting, especially because I always thought of jazz as so bare-bones and so mellow. Honestly, at first, I didn't get it. All the hype over this album was just a cacophony of sounds. "Another victim of the hype machine" I thought to myself (except this hype machine was 44 years old).

But then, today, I turned it on and it all clicked. The fervent randomness I heard before was still there, but now instead of being overwhelmed, I was grooving right along with it. How amazing is that? Despite having no structure, no set rules, and no guidelines (along with instruments never before used in jazz), these artists were able to create one of the most original, special, and engaging listening experiences ever. It was truly chaotic harmony and is unlike anything I have ever heard.

 As the truly great albums do, they teach us things that can be used well beyond the release date. In this case, it's to never turn myself away from hearing something new and different. We get so stuck in our boxes and our genres the we forget this is art before business. When I find something that gets pageviews, I'll use that formula over and over (boobs). When an artist has a number one album, it is safe to assuming their next three albums will sound just like it, and if it doesn't we are often quick to label the artist a "sell-out" or write them off for not doing exactly what we want or what we are used to. So more than just teaching me about Jazz (something which I plan on learning much more about), listening to Bitches Brew taught me to be mindful of the boxes I put music and the people who make it in. We need those artist like Davis who aren't afraid to challenge what we think we know or think we like. Although it might be new, scary and different, it is essential that we expand our horizons or else, hip-hop (and all music for that matter) will never evolve and become even more cookie-cutter than it already is. As the industry shifts towards a more electronic sound, I find the parallels between the electronic influence on Bitches Brew eerily appropriate. Though it was written 44 years ago (and could have used an edit or two), Gleason's words are just as appropriate now as they were then.

Electric music is the music of this culture and in the breaking away (not the breaking down) from previously assumed forms a new kinds of music is emerging. the whole society is like that. the old forms are inadequate.  Not the old eternal verities but the old structures. and new music isn't new in that sense either. It is still a creation which is life itself and it is only done in a new way with new materials. so we have to reach out to the new world with new ideas and new forms in music this has meant leaving the traditional forms of bars and scales, keys and chords and playing something else altogether which maybe you can't identify and classify yet but which you recognize when you hear it and  and which when it makes it, really makes it is the true artistic turn on... it is not more beautiful. just different, a different beauty. the other beauty is still beauty. this is new and right now it has the edge of newness and that snapping fire you sense when you go out there from the spaceship where nobody has ever been before.

Forget music, there are some lessons here for life; don't be afraid to test boundaries and try something new no matter how scary it may be. Okay so don't forget music, instead,set aside an hour and half, turn off the phone, grab a great set of headphones, and take in Bitches Brew. At the very least, it will make you a better fan of music.

(@Lgarrison88)

RefinedHype has merged with The DJBooth. It's the same articles you loved on RefinedHype, new address. For more info, check out the official announcement.


blog comments powered by Disqus

RefinedHype on Twitter


REFINED HYPE ON FACEBOOK


REFINEDHYPE NATION