Fifty Year Friday: Miles Davis Quintet “Nefertiti”
Recorded in June and July of 1967 and released, as best as I can determine, around February 1968, give or take a month, Nefertiti is the ever-exploring, adventurous Miles Davis’s last all-acoustic instrument album. I also consider this one of the first albums to take significant steps into both Fusion and New Age territory.
Miles Davis time at Julliard is partially evident here (just as Tony Scott’s time at Julliard is partially evident in what some consider the very first New Age record, the 1964 album, Music for Zen Meditation.) Miles seems to infuse Bartok and Satie, whose music he admired, into some of this work, as well as possibly (this is maybe a reach on my part, based only on the nature of some of the rhythmic and melodic patterns) Olivier Messiaen. Miles also drives his fellow musicians to further reaches of creativity producing a work like no other work recorded in 1967 or released in 1968. Some call this free-bop, and there are elements of free jazz present, but overall this is generally an accessible album, very much a predecessor to the fusion jazz and progressive-jazz psychedelic/rock-impressionism that will soon follow in so many albums of the 1970s.
The title track, “Nefertiti”, recorded on June 7, 1967 as a single take, is named after the Egyptian queen, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti who, with her Pharoah husband, brought about a religious revolution in Egypt by narrowing religious worship from many gods to only one. And with this first track, “Nefertiti”, there is a singularity of focus. Missing are solos from the trumpet and saxophone. Instead, the two instruments blend into an ambient, cleverly crafted circular sonic stream (well done, Wayne Shorter!), much as when drifting into alternative realms of consciousness prior to sleep. The piano, bass and drums provides the greater variety and commentary here, the entire work thoroughly and unapologetically breaking from the traditional be-bop approach to ensemble sections and solos. We have a strong case for this being jazz minimalism despite the richness of material provided by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, based on the foundational, hardly perceptible variations provided by Miles and Wayne Shorter.
“Fall”, “Pinocchio” (two takes) and “Riot” were recorded on July 19, 1967, two days after John Coltrane’s death. This tragic and monumental event shapes the nature of the performances of these works, particularly Miles’ solos. The other tracks on the Nefertiti album,”Hand Jive” and “Madness”, are more extroverted and were recorded on June 22 and June 23, respectively. Though this album may not have been conceived as a whole work (the amazing “Water Babies”, the sharp-edged”Capricorn” and the reflective, surreal “Sweet Pea” [this last a perfect fit for the Nefertiti album] were also recorded during these sessions and released years later, in 1976), it comes together nicely and provides a general mood of near-mystical introspection. The performances by all members of the quartet border on mythical, with Miles inspiring and encouraging his fellow musicians in reaching further levels of excellence.
This a particularly subtle, perhaps initially elusive, album — one that many will not fall in love with on the first listening. Not as accessible as the previous album, the 1967 Sorcerer, it is often considered to be more substantial: pushing jazz into an unexplored territory that soon becomes part of the language of not only jazz, but rock, fusion, progressive rock, new age, and late twentieth century classical music. Darken the room and give Nefertiti your undivided attention when listening, if not already a devoted fan.
“Nefertiti” — Wayne Shorter (7:52)
“Fall” — Wayne Shorter (6:39)
“Hand Jive” — Tony Williams (8:54)
“Madness” — Herbie Hancock (7:31)
“Riot” — Herbie Hancock (3:04)
“Pinocchio” — Wayne Shorter (5:08)
- Bass – Ron Carter
- Drums – Tony Williams
- Piano – Herbie Hancock
- Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
- Trumpet – Miles Davis
- Engineers – Fred Plaut, Ray Moore