Fifty years ago this week (on Monday), Miles Davis went to a Columbia Records studio in New York and started recording Kind of Blue. Accompanied by greats such as Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans, Davis did more than just make a jazz album; he created a magnum opus that is generally considered one of the most influential works in the entire genre.
Kind of Blue helped to construct a definitive “modal jazz” sound, where musicians would rely on scales instead of chord progression as the basis for their compositions. The result is organic and experimental, but melodic at the same time. Davis only gave the other performers a few sketches of melody lines and scales as material to improvise with, and you can hear it on the album (the sheet music for most of the songs is about a page or so even though each track is at least five minutes long). It’s three-dimensional, in the sense that the instruments seem unfettered by the constraints of structured music and can express themselves freely while still sounding cohesive.
If you don’t listen to jazz, this is where you should start. This album is so amazingly easy to listen to, in spite of being incredibly abstract and complex. Everybody from The Allman Brothers to Pink Floyd to Q-Tip has listed Kind of Blue as an influence, citing how it created a conceptual standard in improvisation that has yet to be beat. I can’t really do it justice…it just sounds so fucking cool.