Miles Dewey Davis may have been many things, but he was certainly a forward-thinking artist with an eye out for what was happening at any given time in the musical landscape, and an urge to not repeat himself in his journey toward a newer, “hipper “style, like it or not. Some, myself included, would argue this point vigorously towards various stages of his career output, especially later. This week, the formidable Impex Record company releases one of Miles’ most contemporary and timeless albums of music and cultural relevance: 1965’s “ESP”.
Miles Davis Quintet
So… Miles Davis in 1965? ‘Trane releases “A Love Supreme”, “Rubber Soul” comes out, Horowitz plays Carnagie Hall, Otis Redding , The Byrds and Bob Dylan release classic, timeless music, and new Miles Davis Quintet members Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock had just presented “Speak No Evil” and “Maiden Voyage” to the universe. Miles' previous band had already left, but he had the next great quintet already assembled, Wayne being the final glorious recruit. "E.S.P." would be their first studio recording together, and what a record it turns out to be, produced by Columbia Records' A&R man Irving Townsend, he of “Kind Of Blue”, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, etc. fame. The cover features a bewildered Miles and an adorable Frances Davis, with Miles sporting quite the flummoxed facial expression. "Man, does she have 'E.S.P.'?"
Musically, Herbie and Wayne are just blooming in every moment, both having a Blue Note contract at the time, and each player’s decisions a lesson in taste at every turn, and Wayne would duly become the group’s primary composer for the life of the quintet. Thankfully, the sound of this new Impex pressing is terrific, with a presence and warmth not achieved on the first Columbia "360-Degree Sound" pressing, as the original recording and mastering was very "1965", especially with Tony Williams' drums mixed too low in the overall spectrum. Later, Tony would be given his proper sonic space in the mix by the time the album "Miles Smiles" was made, with the drums almost a lead instrument. (By the time of the “Sorcerer” recording, the music is just leaping out of the speakers!) Ron Carter's recorded bass sound was really coming into it's own (mic placement?), even with his bass being positioned hard left in the true-stereo-recorded panorama. Fortunately, excellent micrphones were being used on Shorter and Davis' horns, but Herbie's piano would remain somewhat thin sounding even through the "Complete Quintet Box Set" remaster-era. Sound quibbles aside, this playing is inspired, agressive, haunting, original and ahead of it's time to say the least.
Many tracks are so singular and original for their times, as are their creators' imaginations. “Eighty One”, with frenetic Jass energy right out of the gate, proving these men’s awareness of NOW, and conversely their Blue Note home bases' audiences. No truer than on on “Little One’, with a sleek, post-Horace Silver barbeque funk (with a necktie on), featuring Herbie’s ear-bending phrases and chord substitutions. “Iris”, a thoroughly twentieth-century Shorter ballad with emotional twists and sentiment that looks way ahead stylistically. His solo here speaks to the future direction of his thoughts on his horns more than anything else (except perhaps the “Plugged Nickel” live sessions released many years later but recorded in '65, too), with his (as always) lilting, chromatic exploration of tension and release. Of course Miles’ own playing, mostly mute-less and open in all of this was never better. With “Agitation”, a searing reserve of ideas and directions drawing up the blueprint for Miles' solos-a flurry representative of the next 15 years of his own directions, whether acoustic or electric.
And, if you’re still in need of a poetic, written-word architype of the times, look no further than the great Ralph J. Gleason’s to-die-for-cool liner notes for the album, graciously untouched on the rear of the sleeve and thankfully not updated by Impex.
Impex is an award-winning widely respected audiophile music manufacturer, and their roots began with the Cisco Music company many years ago, cultivating a benchmark organization known for quality of final product and unparrelled repertoire, which continues to this day in all contemporary audio formats, including some of the best vinyl pressings you will ever hear. Pick up a copy of "E.S.P." here now, at Amoeba.com or in the Amoeba stores. The pressing is a limited edition, so don’t sleep on it!