The Second Great Quintet

It’s nice to be blown away. The cynical, jaded layer that forms like a crust over gets its fuel from the despair that it’s all been seen, no more epiphanies to be had. But sometimes, by stripping away expectations and allowing yourself to open up like a neophyte, something gets through to you and humbles and excites you at the same time. And sometimes it just sneaks in surprises you. Pardon the purple prose, but I’ve been listening to to the music of Miles Davis‘s so-called “Second Great Quintet”. And it’s kind of stunned me.

In the mid-to-late sixties, Miles was peaking, although health problems were already bothering him. Non-self-inflicted health problems, that is. From ’65 to ’68, he was recording with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. That’s just a crazy collection of talent. The greatest jazz quintet ever assembled? Maybe. And the sidemen were all kids. All virtuosos, great improvisers and composers.

This is transition period art. Bop went out on a rocket ship and reached orbit here, in the post-bop zone. Eventually, the orbit decayed, the ship started to break up, disintegrating into fusion. But that’s still a few years off; for now, the musicians are fully enjoying the new-found effects of weightlessness. There forms are loose and quirky. There’s still an occasional smidge of functional harmony, but it’s more for flavour than function. The lines, especially Hancock’s remind me of the Brownian motion stuff I used to do. And the sonorities are sweet. But mostly, man, these guys just play.

It’s exciting.