Fifty Year Friday: In A Silent Way
MILES DAVIS: IN A SILENT WAY
Recorded in one session on Feb 18, 1969 as three performances, “Shhh/Peaceful”, “In A Silent Way”, “It’s About That Time”, then edited by Ted Macero (with apparently minimal input from Miles Davis) into two compositions in ABA form, one for each side, In A Silent Way, was released on July 30, 1969, peaking at number 134 on Billboard’s Top LPs chart. The music is available today in both the edited form, which for a long time was all that listeners were familiar with, and in its original form.
What is striking about either the edited or original form, is the original style of both the music and the musical approach to structure and form that was deployed. The album version differs considerably than the original takes. For “Shhh”/”Peaceful” the original starts off with a whole-tone sort of motif (with traces of the flat-second Dorian mode) on which the entire work unfolds. There is this amazing guitar work from McLaughlin and a brief but luxuriantly melodic Davis/Shorter passage. All of this is dropped from the album version, which begins with the initial statement of another theme from the original take (about ninety seconds) followed with the restatement of this theme that occurs during the last four and a half minutes of the original, then followed with earlier material. Whereas the original is multi-thematic and provides more contrast, the album version is more mono-thematic and ambient in nature. It is basically in A B A form, resembling the Sonata form found in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven era music, with the middle section analogous to a development section.
On the second side of the album, Teo Maceo continues to aggressively edit the original music, once again creating an ABA structure by taking the group’s performance of Davis’s simplified version of Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way” for the A section and using Davis and Zawinul’s collaborative “It’s about That Time” as the B section. The results provides us with an impressionistic A section, and a quasi-bluesy, slightly funky B section, with a perfect repeat (as it is just a copy) of the original A section.
Though a transitional style for Davis, this landmark ambient jazz album would have considerable influence on many styles of music in the next few years ranging from other jazz or jazz-ambient artists to a subset of progressive rock groups, particularly several of the so-called Kraut-rock bands including Can, Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Amon Duul II, to Brian Eno to a number of New Age artists to even several modern “classical music” composers. It’s tempting to debate the artistic pros and cons and the artistic merit of the original music versus the final edited album, but it was that final edited album that was the sole source of this music for musicians and music lovers during the last five months of 1969, all of the seventies, the eighties and the nineties. Commercial music is often notable for its externally enforced limitations, but in 1969 in particular, music markedly stood out for its bold exploration outside of established boundaries, with In A Silent Way being one of the best examples of music liberated and unencumbered from the realm of retail-driven mechanical patterns and formulas, purposefully, yet seemingly spontaneously, creating a new and unconfined expanse of musical expression.
“Shhh”/”Peaceful” (Miles Davis) 18:16
“In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time” (Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis) 19:52
- Miles Davis – trumpet
- Wayne Shorter – soprano saxophone
- John McLaughlin – guitar
- Chick Corea – electric piano
- Herbie Hancock – electric piano
- Joe Zawinul – electric piano, organ
- Dave Holland – bass
- Tony Williams – drums