Monday, 1 November 2010

Feeling Kind Of Blue

In the spirit of finding something positive to blog about... last night I was waiting in the car to start work (it's a railway thing, you can't rush it), and catching up on some blogs, including Why Evolution Is True, where Jerry Coyne was trying to assert that "Layla" is the greatest rock song of all time.

Obviously I couldn't let that go unchallenged. Clearly Whole Lotta Love is the greatest - or is it Just? - or Sheena Is A Punk Rocker? Er,... well, I always feel the point of making bald statements like, '"Layla" is the greatest rock song of all time' is to invite alternative perspectives, and thereby expand your musical horizons. There's no definitive answer, the appreciation of music is gloriously subjective.

But it set my train of thought in motion, and I eventually arrived, as I often do, at Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue. So I put the iPod on the car stereo, pressed play, and lay back and let the dreamy rubato of "So What" wash over me. In my car, in the dead of night in Kilburn, watching Hallowe'en revellers wander down the road from club to pub to home to wherever else they were going, I was transported to another, more restful place.

Kind Of Blue sends me. I discovered it (or was it revealed to me?) about 7 years ago, at a time when I'd never even listened to jazz, and never even thought I'd ever be into any kind of jazz. I think I only bought it because it was on offer, and because I'd caught a quick glimpse of the title in a Beatles album review, or something.

And from the moment I heard it, it was like I'd never been without it. It speaks to me in a way that lyrics can't. It leaves me feeling... I don't know. Not sad. Maybe melancholy. I think it's best expressed in the title. Kind Of Blue. Just that wistful, sentimental, reflective mood, indefinable. It's always done that to me. It's the only album that speaks to me in any given situation, and that's because it explains everything by saying nothing.

Every time I listen, there's a new phrase or passage that I haven't noticed before, or had forgotten about, or that I hear in a different way. The production is so crisp, so clear, that it's like the band are there with you. I can't think of any other album that exists on such an intimate level with me. My most lasting memory of the album is when I listened to it sitting on the banks of a pond in Derby, reading "On Green Dolphin Street", a Sebastian Faulks novel which uses the release of Kind Of Blue, and other Miles Davis numbers, as a plot device. But I've listened to it in so many places, at so many different times in my life, that I can hardly begin to express the influence it's had on me.

Hard to pick stand-out moments, but here goes: Jimmy Cobb's hihat crash leading into Miles' solo on "So What"... Miles' solo on "Freddie Freeloader", which I prefer to his solo on "So What"... Bill Evans' extraordinary solo, again on "So What", and his tumbling, cascading, ever-evolving take on "Blue In Green"... Coltrane's unusually relaxed solo on the same track... Cannonball's exuberant, bluesy solo on "All Blues". Just listening to "Blue In Green" now, I can feel the space in the music, like it's the silences, and the things that are left unsaid, that mean the most.

I can't sum it up adequately. I'll just quote Jimmy Cobb, the drummer on the album:
It must have been made in heaven.

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