Miles Davis – In a Silent Way

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This is post-rock two decades ahead of schedule. Except: In a Silent Way is more successful atmosphere-wise than a lot of like-minded post-rock bands because the atmosphere isn’t shoved down your throat. I read a review somewhere that claimed the drumming is too soft (certainly in comparison to Bitches Brew, which is cooler because it’s more out there, whereas In a Silent Way’s just cool). To respond in a way that I imagine Miles Davis might: that’s the point, motherfucker; those soft click-clacking pulse in “It’s About That Time” before that climax is enough to roll me ‘round. And speaking of, when the drums explode at the 13:15 mark of “In a Silent Way / It’s About That Time” you’ll learn that In a Silent Way is also more successful climax-wise than like-minded post-rock bands because the climax isn’t shoved down your throat (how’s that’s for an image?). 

Let’s talk about that climax for a little bit, because it’s only 45 seconds of a near-20 minute song in a 37-minute album – that’s it. I’m reminded of one of the greatest speeches in literature and cinema wherein Ricky Roma articulates that there are damn-near-tangible aspects/moments (of music, of life) that can, in fact, be articulated (why we’re here) and these are what we should be living for,”The great fucks that you may have had. What do you remember about them? […] I don’t know. For me, I’m saying, what it is, it’s probably not the orgasm. Some broads, forearms on your neck, something her eyes did. There was a sound she made…or me, lying in the, I’ll tell you: me lying in bed; the next day she brought me café au lait. She gives me a cigarette, my balls feel like concrete.” (The first time I ever thought I might actually be in love was when the girl I was with spun around in the grocery store and asked me what I wanted; just the way the lights hit her face. I shrugged and said nothing and thought about saying “You.” In retrospect, I should have.) (It’s either this or the “Where did you learn your trade?” that was the best speech of Glengarry Glen Ross people; not Alec Baldwin’s.) (Also, my invocation of David Mamet’s play isn’t completely unfounded: Glengarry Glen Ross is littered with pauses, which is apt with what’s going on here: In a Silent Way is as much about what’s not being said as it is what is). (Also, like the play, “Shhh / Peaceful” sometimes feels brooding, what, with those thumps going on (first starting at the 1:16 mark), like an uninvited guest in your kitchen; don’t listen to it stoned out of your gourd, it might freak you out. It certainly did me.) (Is this enough parentheses for you?)

”Eh? What I’m saying?” What I’m trying to say is: every time something happens in this album, it dissipates into the cool summer night air right after; it might come back, it might not, something else will probably take its place (on that note, those cool summer nights are the best time to hear In a Silent Way). Everything’s fleeting. It always shocks me how the opening chord of “Shhh / Peaceful” fills the room and the drums explode right after, kicking it out, starting again; ditto “In a Silent Way” turning into “It’s About That Time” (at the 4:12 mark) (though I find the lack of transition here to be intrusive). My favorite four seconds of the album happens from the 10:41 – 10:44 of “Shhh / Peaceful” – wherein everyone (except Tony Williams) quiets down or stops playing entirely to give one of the pianists a single measure to himself before everything picks up again. Never happens again. Despite what some people say, this is not ambient music ahead of schedule; it requires active listening because there’s so much going on that even if you’re doing nothing while listening, you won’t be able to catch it all. Moreover, unlike a lot of ambient music, it asks for reaction: emotionally if not physically; specifically Miles Davis’ playing on the title track. And physically too – you could dance to this. …maybe. As soon as Dave Holland leaves his economical interval and shimmies along with Miles Davis in “Shhh / Peaceful” (starting at the 3:53 mark), or the entirety of “It’s About That Time”; when he’s playing quick bursts, the empty space is filled with keyboards and when he whips out that melodic bassline? It’s go time, babes. And when Joseph Zawinul harmonizes with that keyboard interval or that bassline with a twinkly organ, it’s like the sound a star might make. 

“What is our life? It’s looking forward…”, like “It’s About That Time,” a nod towards the steady groove of On the Corner (and better than anything on that album, to be honest); and though everyone brings up Miles Davis’ absorbing Sly & the Family Stone, I don’t hear the Sly & the Family Stone of ’69 or before, I hear the Sly & the Family Stone of It’s a Riot Goin’ On (71) and Fresh (73), “… or it’s looking back,” like John McLaughlin invoking the high-minded mysticism of Jimi Hendrix or “Shhh / Peaceful” recalling “So What” from 10 years’ previous, and my God, how much has changed since then? 

”And that’s our life. That’s it. Where is the moment? And what is it that we’re afraid of? Loss. What else?”

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4 responses to “Miles Davis – In a Silent Way

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