The New Sounds

Miles Davis

Prestige, 1951

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Once upon a time, boys and girls, before the invention of the long-playing record—otherwise known as the LP, or the 12-inch—music was released on thick slabs of vinyl known as 78s (due to the turntable speed they were played at). In between 78s and the advent of the LP, a new format came to be—the 10-inch 33 RPM record; for several years, this is how one bought collections of multiple songs from artists.

So, while it might look odd for us to be reviewing a record that spans a whopping four songs and clocks in at 23 minutes, it is an important piece of history to look at. Released in 1951, The New Sounds marked the debut of jazz legend Miles Davis as the leader of his own group. Released six years before the seminal album Birth Of The Cool, it captures Davis and group exploring the boundaries of hard bop and a little bit of popular music of the time.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first two selections are the definitive hard bop tracks that suggested where Davis’s musical muse would take him throughout the ’50s and ’60s. The band’s take on George Shearing’s “Conception” is a pleasant enough outing, and has more than a slight air of familiarity to it. With an uncredited appearance of bassist Charles Mingus, the track absolutely sizzles with energy. Similarly, the sole Davis composition of the group, “Dig,” is a harbinger of what would lie ahead for Davis in the world of jazz, and is simply fun to listen to.

The remaining two tracks aren’t quite as strong—though they, too, hold out suggestions of what would come in Davis’s musical future. Davis’s take on “My Old Flame” drags a bit and doesn’t have the same energy as the previous two selections. Closing out the album is Davis’s take on the Arlen/Harburg/Rose classic “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” a track which doesn’t have the swing and groove that the harder-edged songs do, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

Davis had a history of surrounding himself with stellar musicians, and The New Sounds is no exception. Featuring saxophone work from Sonny Rollins and drummer Art Blakey laying down a solid beat, Davis and crew set a bar for future outings in the world of jazz, and while this isn’t a perfect set, the bar is fairly high.

If anything, the 10-inch format limits the amount of music that the listener had access to (though, to be fair, it did improve significantly on the 78’s limited space). Simply put, just as the listener is getting interested in this disc, it abruptly ends. (Fortunately, these tracks have been compiled into a number of collections, including the definitive set Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings.) Still, there is something to be said about hearing them in their original environment, without padding or embellishment.

Could one honestly say that listening to these four songs painted a clear picture of the greatness Davis would achieve? Well… no. But The New Sounds proved that artists like Davis were interested in seeing how far they could push the limits of the jazz world – and this was just the first tentative shove.

Rating: B

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