Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain – [Record 172]
Sketches of Spain is an album by Miles Davis, recorded between November 1959 and March 1960 at the Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York City. An extended version of the second movement of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is included, as well as a song called “Will o’ the Wisp”, from the ballet El amor brujo by Manuel de Falla. Sketches of Spain is regarded as an exemplary recording of Third Stream, a musical fusion of jazz, European classical, and styles of world music.
1, Concierto de Aranjuez.
2, Will o’ the Wisp.
3, The Pan Piper.
Background: The album pairs Davis with arranger and composer Gil Evans, with whom he had collaborated on several other projects, on a program of compositions largely derived from the Spanish folk tradition. Evans explained:
“[We] hadn’t intended to make a Spanish album. We were just going to do the Concierto de Aranjuez. A friend of Miles gave him the only album in existence with that piece. He brought it back to New York and I copied the music off the record because there was no score. By the time we did that, we began to listen to other folk music, music played in clubs in Spain… So we learned a lot from that and it ended up being a Spanish album. The Rodrigo, the melody is so beautiful. It’s such a strong song. I was so thrilled with that.”
Concierto de Aranjuez: The opening piece, taking up almost half the record, is an arrangement by Evans and Davis of the adagio movement of Concierto de Aranjuez, a concerto for guitar by the contemporary Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. Following the faithful introduction of the concerto’s guitar melody on flugelhorn, Evans’ arrangement turns into a “quasi-symphonic, quasi-jazz world of sound”, according to his biographer. The middle of the piece contains a “chorus” by Evans unrelated to the concerto but “echoed” in the other pieces on the album. The original melody then reappears in a darker mode.
Davis plays flugelhorn and later trumpet, attempting to connect the various settings musically. Davis commented at rehearsal, “The thing I have to do now is make things connect, make them mean something in what I play around it.” Davis thought the concerto’s adagio melody was “so strong” that “the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets”, and Evans concurred.
According to Davis’ biographer Chambers, the contemporary critical response to the arrangement was not surprising, especially given the scarcity of anything resembling a jazz rhythm in most of the piece. Martin Williams wrote that “the recording is something of a curiosity and a failure, as I think a comparison with any good performance of the movement by a classical guitarist would confirm”. The composer Rodrigo was also not impressed, but royalties from the arrangement brought him “a lot of money”, according to Evans.
Reception: Sketches of Spain is widely considered by fans and critics to be one of the most accessible albums of Davis’ career. It is less improvisational than much of his other work. Replying to suggestions that Sketches of Spain was something other than jazz, Davis told Rolling Stone magazine, “It’s music, and I like it”.
The Rolling Stone Album Guide calls it “a work of unparalleled grace and lyricism.” In 2003, the album was ranked number 358 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Evans and Davis won the 1961 Grammy Award for Best Original Jazz Composition for Sketches of Spain.