Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain

[We welcome with pleasure Tom Hamilton to La Folia. Tom is a composer/performer living in New York. His latest CD is Sebastian’s Shadow, Longer Ramblings on a Short Bach Fugue, Monroe Street Music MSM 60103, which we heartily recommend. I’d sooner fall out with a friend that part with Tom’s Off-Hour Wait State, Some Music about the Subway, O.O. Discs 0026. Ed]

Tom Hamilton

[April 1999. Originally appeared in La Folia 1:5.]

Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain. Arranged & conducted by Gil Evans. Columbia CK 40578.

1960, lunchtime jamming every day in a suburban high school practice room. Hearing from the big kids that what we were trying to do was called jazz (hardly). Got the requisite subscription to Downbeat with bonus gift, something by Miles called Sketches of Spain, choice of mono or stereo….

Those first castanet and harp tremolos and then the flute, trombone and trumpet and all that breathing, right up close to the mic! Never mind who Rodrigo was — it was all Miles and Gil to me. Anyway, four years later when I finally heard the original Concierto de Aranjuez it sounded kind of, well, tired.

Sketches just stayed with me, and though I could never have intentionally prepared for or even imagined in 1960 what I now do in (and to) music, somehow these ideas got through. The melodic looseness against the slowly measured harmonies, the understated pulse, the magical orchestration and the sense of evoked time and place — all of this still nagging me for almost 40 years.

After temporarily giving up access to my record collection, I’m glad that the now decade-old CD reissue thrills me just as much as the first time I heard that promo on my Dorset phonograph. A shrill-voiced friend objects to a thinner-than-LP sound, but now I hear more timbral counterpoint, more attack, more Miles. Now I can follow the snare drum ostinato in Solea all the way through the texture, separate from the other percussion and the drum set, or track some other grouping the same way. I can’t imagine a more perfect recording.