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Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain (1960)

This might be a crock of shit, but Miles Davis has to be the most versatile jazz musician of his time. I say this because I have only heard three albums by Davis aka the “Prince of Darkness.” “How the hell did he get that nickname?” And those albums are; Birth of the Cool, which had kind of an uptempo bebop feel, Some Kind of Blue, which is the laid back lounge lizard jazz, and this one, which is on a whole other planet… A planet called Spain.

Initially, I imagined an album with a few salsa numbers, merengue, bossa nova, maybe a little cha-cha. Only to find out later none of those genres come from Spain. What is Spanish music? A wiki search will tell you Spanish music is commonly associated with flamenco, traditional folk and European classical musical. This definitely helps me color in the numbers of Sketches of Spain, a symphonic jazz odyssey that must be heard to be understood.

“Concerto de Aranjuez” is the album’s most memorable piece. Clocking in at almost twenty minutes, the song is an arrangement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s 1939 piece written for classical guitar. Though because Davis is a horns man, he plays the arrangement on flugelhorn. The result is moody and atmospheric, even scary at times. It’s hard to believe such a complex jazz arrangement existed at the same Andy Griffith was winning over the hearts of America with his small town ways.

The origin of this album (if true) is another fascinating story. Apparently, Davis was given the only album in existence with “Concerto de Aranjuez” and Davis and his arranger Gil Evans had to copy the music from what they heard on the record. The rest of the album developed from Spanish folk music the two heard in clubs. The end result is a collection of music that is both intricate and engaging.

Sketches of Spain feels like a soundtrack to an unmade film. I could imagine this album being at home in a European-produced western or something involving an exotic land or overseas adventure. This album takes the mind for a ride and that ain’t no crock of shit.

Favorite Tracks: “Concerto de Aranjuez,” “The Pan Piper,” “Will o’ the Wisp “