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ESP (1991 Reissue)

To purchase this recording from Amazon.com, click here: E.S.P.

Miles Davis



1. E.S.P. (5:29)
(W. Shorter/M. Davis)
Warner-Tamerlane Pub. Corp./Jazz Horn Music/ BMI

2. EIGHTY-ONE (6:14)
(M. Davis/R. Carter)
Retrac Productions Inc/BMI

3. LITTLE ONE (7:21)
(H. Hancock)
Hancock Music Co./BMI

4. R.J. (3:56)
(R. Carter)
Retrac Productions Inc/BMI

5. AGITATION (7:45)
(M. Davis)
Warner-Tamerlane Pub. Corp./Jazz Horn Music/BMI

6. IRIS (8:31)*
(W. Shorter/M. Davis)
Warner-Tamerlane Pub. Corp./Jazz Horn Music/BMI

(R. Carter)
Retrac Productions Inc/BMI



Miles Davis - Trumpet
Wayne Shorter - Tenor sax
Tony Williams - Drums
Ron Carter - Bass
Herbie Hancock - Piano

Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams appear through the courtesy of Blue Note Records

By September 1964, 38-year-old Miles Davis was already widely acknowledged as one of the most audacious, probing, and influential musicians in the history of what we call jazz. As he shifted musical gears from bebop to cool to orchestral to modal approaches, he helped spearhead the music's overall development.

Partly, of course, that was due to his own instrumental prowess: his puckered, often muted, trumpet punctured the expected solo forms, ignoring staccato fusillades and high-register pyrotechnics for mid-register swerves and floating silences. But it was also due in part to his early emergence as a leader—an ability that linked him to the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus. From his early days, Miles demonstrated an uncanny knack for finding the best musicians available and letting them realize the new concepts taking shape in his restless, fertile imagination. For over 40 years, the one constant in the fruitful and controversial career of Miles Davis has been the unpredictable changes that have come as he's shifted from band to band.

As a teenager who had come to the Big Apple from his St. Louis home under the pretext of studying at Juilliard, Miles had made sure he was present at the rapid maturity of bebop, since he'd missed out on its birth; the language's pioneers —Bird, Dizzy, Bud—were his mentors and bandmates. But in hindsight, it's clear he was with them but not of them. His own conception surfaced in his solos, which tended to be less frenetic and more obsessed with spaces than the typical Bird-clone's spew of licks. The shaping of a melody and the structure surrounding it, not the bop epigones' one-upsmanship running of changes at a breakneck pace, was what snared (and kept) Miles' interest. In that respect, he shared an ironic kinship with his sometime-antagonist, Thelonious Monk, another mislabeled bebopper.

Then, in 1949-'50, Miles began to explore some of his conception's ramifications with Birth Of The Cool, his first collaboration with Gil Evans.It was also the first evidence of Miles' leadership technique: basically, he gathers players who are sympathetic to the general directions he wants to head in, then gives them their heads to map out the new territory while he threads the results together with his concept and trumpet. So it was with Birth Of The Cool: the album was actually a group of sessions that grew from exploratory rehearsals of offbeat orchestrations by Evans and John Lewis. Its unusually-instrumented nonet featured high-caliber players like Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, J. J. Johnson, and Max Roach, all of whom contributed their ideas while, as Mulligan put it, "(Miles) took the initiative and put the theories to work. He called the rehearsals, hired the halls, called the players and generally cracked the whip."

Released on 78s, collected on Lp only in 1957,Birth Of The Cool became, along with combos like Lewis' Modern Jazz Quartet and the Red Norvo Trio, a key influence on what was called (misleadingly) West Coast jazz, whose "cool" practitioners—especially the overpraised Chet Baker—did little but clone and dilute Miles' and Evans' ideas. (The label "West Coast jazz," like so many in the history of the music, was misleading for simple reasons: not only was "cool" a dialect spoken elsewhere, but the California scene at the time was itself rich with other dialects spoken by talents like Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and Eric Dolphy.)

With Birth Of The Cool, Davis and Evans cemented a legendary partnership and friendship whose musical dialogue continued until Evans' death in 1988. Along the way, they scaled orchestral settings on albums like 1960's Sketches Of Spain. Taking Evans' evocative and moody arrangements of Spanish compositions and folk tunes as their departure points, the tone poems against which Miles darted and curved his vocalic trumpet melded the notion of European concertos (which Duke Ellington had already appropriated into jazz via compositions like "Concerto For Cootie") with Bird's pioneering if not-fully-realized work against string back-drops. But the results Miles and Gil got on Sketches were strikingly integrated and quite suggestive, even if albums like Porgy And Bess made the conception uneven overall as a body of work.

Typically enough for the ever-restless Miles, at the same time that he was pursuing the more orchestral and composed sides of jazz, he continued to explore different angles of improvisation, the other pole of the dialectic powering jazz's engine. So 1959 witnessed Kind Of Blue, which followed up on Miles' earlier efforts, like Milestones, in attempting to combine modes and open-ended improvisation into a band vehicle. Boasting John Coltrane, Julian "Cannonball"Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb, it was a pivotal effort. Other musicians from George Russell (who was heavily involved in he experimentation and theorizing in Gil Evans' basement apartment which yielded Birth Of The Cool, and with whom Bill Evans had worked) to Sun Ra (whose John Gilmore deeply influenced Irene) had delved into modes as the basis for a new improvising language that would complement or displace the Tin Pan Alley song structures that generated bebop's thicket of chords, but Kind Of Blue brought the idea into the mainstream.

Ironically, Miles himself retreated from this improvising revolution. (It wasn't the only time he'd do that: after On The Corner, where he foregrounded outrageous explosions of percussion against rock- and - funk -derived textures, he lapsed back into the by then more formulaic fusion forged on Bitches Brew.) Although following Kind Of Blue he cut the orchestral albums with Gil Evans, his active bands between 1959 and 1964 were still playing early repertoire like "Walkin" and "My Funny Valentine," standards with set changes—the very approach that Kind Of Blue had set aside. But that's the nature of revolutions in music as in life: a breakthrough is usually followed by consolidation, retrenchment, and then, at last, a return to the barricades.

So it's no surprise that by September 1964, Miles had finished assembling another group that would help continue his ongoing musical revolutions. While pundits predicted jazz's death—that same year, the Beatles had led the successful British Invasion that resuscitated rock and roll and pulled most younger fans out of jazz venues and record sections—Miles was bent, as he was so often, on reshaping the music into something vital, not mourning its alleged passing. By the time E.S.P. was recorded in early 1965, his ace lineup—Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock (credited on the original sleeve as Herb), Ron Carter (credited as Ronald), and Tony Williams—was already churning up sounds that would earn it legendary status.

Shorter was the last element in the band's kinetic chemistry to fall into place. Five years earlier, he'd been recommended by Coltrane for the tenor slot; Trane wanted to spread his own wings, and Shorter's adroit mix of influences (Trane's achingly acerbic tone chief among them) coupled with his own coiled sense of time seemed, to the older sax great, to mark Shorter as his natural successor. He was ultimately right, but for that moment Miles persuaded him to stay one more time, and Shorter signed on with Art Blakey's perennial Jazz Messengers instead.Trane, of course, left Miles anyway, and though his slot was filled by high-quality players like George Coleman and Sam Rivers, those bands are generally regarded as interim groups.

That changed when Shorter finally joined Miles' quintet. Between then and the time E.S.P. was cut, the band's entire internal texture, as Jack Chambers, author of the acclaimed Milestones (Beech Tree Books), noted simply, "Shorter was the catalyst." But in fact, all the band members had the unique ability to, in a sense, lead themselves, which, besides their obvious instrumental and compositional prowess,is what made them prime candidates for a Miles lineup anyway.

For, like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, Miles set up a feedback loop between his side-men, himself, and his musical goals. But with a difference: Duke's loop was closed (as was Mingus'), and thus shaped all the material coursing through it to his image. Even when he appropriated the players' input and custom-wrote parts and solos for them, the results became embedded in the ongoing body of work that was the Duke Ellington Band. By contrast,Miles' feedback loop has always been open. When he's listening to his sidemen, he doesn't have a hidden agenda; he's there to hear what happens and then deduce where it can go. That attitude forces the players to be participants in the democratic model we call a jazz combo even as it helps clarify his next direction in the leader's own perpetually searching mind.

There's an archetypal story told by nearly every musician I've ever talked to who's worked with Miles. Melted down, its various versions run together something like this: "We were sitting in the studio jamming, and the tapes were rolling like they always were," says "MilesMan." "Miles was just standing with his back to us, and all of a sudden he spun around and looked right at me and said, [Fill in the blank with some very specific directive like, 'Don't let me hear you playin' none of that bebop shit: or, 'Why don't you leave some space in there?']. It was about the only straight direction I ever got from him."

From that perspective, Miles Davis as leader is the epitome of Zen, the blank shrug that answers the cliched question of which, creatively speaking, came first, the chicken or the egg, the band or the concept. He deliberately places his own creativity on the line, surrenders it to be at the mercy of the band he heads; to a large degree, his course is set by the sounds raging from his personnel. Of course he picks them, but less to align with preconceived notions of where he's headed than because he's reacting to how they might get him to someplace—and this is the key operative word in Miles' vocabulary—new.

What new is or will be, exactly, arises from the friction between Miles' studied technique of avoiding imprisoning his players with too much direction and the band members' evolving sense of community and purpose, and their gleaning from his oblique hints what salient points he's hearing about what they're doing. The process completes an ironic circle that Duke's men never had to deal with. In effect, Miles' players are always trying to guess what he's making of their attempts to guess what's on his mind, when in the end what he wants—and when it works,what he gets—is what's on their minds: he wants them to plot out their own methods for having the musical conversations we call improvisation.That way, his players do more than infuse them-elves into his music. They become the music as much as he does. (Which is one underlying reason that Miles, since the '60s, has usually refused to play old repertoire with new bands."How can you play that stuff," he once asked me, "without Bill and Trane and those guys? Why would you?")

His players became the music on E.S.P., creating something new from a meeting of hard bop and modal attacks through both their compositions and their improvisations. Most commentators agree that Williams' shimmering cymbals and odd-meter superimpositions provided the music's distinctive underpinnings and signature. The young (he was 19 at the time E.S.P. was cut) drummer's fractionated pulses thrust his compatriots outward with centrifugal force; Carter's deep-toned lines spun out the tightropes that the soloists cavorted on, while Hancock's snaky comping and conspicuous absences warped, and let his compatriots warp, the ever-looser harmonic structures. Threading through it all, of course, Miles' now-singing, now-phlegmatic horn jabbed left hooks, poked into brilliant and unpredictable corners, and arced with a ferocious grace. The irresistible combination of ingredients made this Miles quintet the last of his bands virtually all jazz critics and fans can agree to call great.

You can hear why from E.S.P.'s outset. The almost singsong sway of the theme for the Miles- penned title track falls away to Shorter's muscular come-on, which deliberately evokes Trane, then Miles' agile and angular romp, then Hancock's sprightly dashes—all of them goaded by Carter's sprinting bass and Williams' sudden slams and bucking cymbal rides. "Eighty-One" takes a characteristically idiosyncratic turn on the soul-jazz so popular at the time (thanks largely to Miles alumnus Cannonball Adderley), mutating into a growling blues for its B sections. "Little One" opens with lush, post-Impressionist piano chords; soon, Miles' bleak trumpet scrawls a theme followed by an anguished solo as the rhythm section kicks into modified waltz-time balladeering; Shorter's sax conveys a kind of sophisticated heartbreak that's no less painful for its world-weariness; Hancock, whose tune this is, paints in spare, somber tones—a Rothko in sound. Next, Carter's piece, "RI" lights out for hard-bop territory with highstrung bass pumping that suddenly downshifts for the turnarounds.

Sometimes the titles jazzers hang from their tunes seem either mysteriously unconnected or banally direct; but "Agitation" isn't one of those. The Williams solo that lifts it off is no befuddled or frenzied banging; in fact, it continues the recording's introspective mood while, like the tempo changes and stalling pedal tones that punctuate the rest of the tune, clearly suggesting the swirling emotions lurking behind the polished surface. "Iris," penned by Shorter, finds first the melancholy sax, then the voice-of-the-wasteland trumpet framed by Hancock's nimble, leapfrogging comping to a rare extent. Rounding things off is "Mood," another Carter piece; fili greed with breathy, muted trumpet and under stated sax in a counterpoint that purposely sidesteps dialogue, it lingers in the memory like the fog-and-smoke-filled mise-en-scenes of the noir flicks it could accompany.

After E.S.P. came the deluge of remarkable albums featuring this powerhouse quintet: Miles Smiles, Nefertiti, Sorcerer, Files de Kilimanjaro, and so on. And then the quintet finally disintegrated as Miles pressed on into fusion, driven by the iron law of change that has shaped his vast but deliberately discontinuous body of music in the same way it drives life itself. For Miles Davis, motion is life, stasis is death—it's as simple and basic and relentless as that. So change isn't caprice or whim for him any more than it was for Darwin. Rather, it's a strategic interplay of forces —in Miles' case, the literal interplay on stage, and the conceptual interplay between himself and the players he picks for his bands—that allows the chance of adaptation, and hence survival. By its enduring beauty, ESP demonstrates just how successful Miles Davis' aesthetic strategy could be.

—Gene Santoro

Original Recordings
Produced by Irving Townsend
Cover photo: Bob Cato

Digital Producer: Mike Berniker
Digitally remixed by Tim Geelan at
CBS Records New York Studios
Contemporary Jazz Masters Series Coordination:
Mike Berniker, Gary Pacheco, and Penny Armstrong
Package Coordination: Tony Tiller and Pete Cenedella



Previously released as CS 9150

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