The web page of the ABPress based in Oxford and Sibiu, soon open for business: muses and misspells on its books. Randomly decrepit, stiff joints, possibly neo-bankrupt: so out of touch it needs help, but so analogue it cannot be helped. Nonetheless temperamentally enthusiastic, moderately irascible.
If any one track sums up Miles Davis, it might be Circle, recorded in October 1966 for the album Miles Smiles, by his quintet of the time – Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams – that disavowed the stability that straight-ahead jazz offered, that took on the responsive danger of free form without stepping into anarchy. ‘Time no changes’ was the term used to describe Miles’ style of this time. At the creative high tide of his career, when his playing relied even less on technique and much more on an intuitive and personal sound, Davis became a musical high wire artist, balanced in the wind on perilous shards of glass: he courted danger and revelled in it. Like Miles’ cracked voice (said to be the result of losing his temper after surgery on his throat, and heard at the end of this track addressing his record producer, Teo Macero), the frailty of this sound could be in turn amusingly quizzical or petulant, often the sound of emery paper rubbed against glass. Davis was a troubled man, referred to readily as the Prince of Darkness, not just because he frequently and famously turned his back upon an audience; stories of his intransigence, his peevish and capricious nature, his meanness and fits of violence litter his biography (though so too tales of friendship and loyalty). Davis’ face is a chiselled portrait of subliminal pain, a pitted intensity; his coiled silhouette too. His was a brooding persona that was menacing yet sensitive, anecdotally unrelenting and masterful yet, antidotally, fragile above all else. This track is proof.