Stirring snapshots of late night coffee bars. New York and Paris. Black and white pictures, naturally. They sip whiskey and black coffee at the counters and tables while the quartet plays up a storm. Edward Hopper couldn’t be this evocative.

But Miles Davis could.

Hopper needed images. He needed to show us the picture in his head. Davis, armed with a trumpet and a soul, gives us the outline, just the barest sketch. And leaves us to fill in the blanks with whatever colours we so desire.

The Cinema Of Miles Davis is just that. It’s a collection of Davis’ work used in films through the years. Including his first full score for Ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud. That’s French for ‘Elevator To The Gallows’. Somehow that just fits perfectly.

Without a paintbrush, without words even, Davis paints cinematic pictures so vivid you can see the grains in the black and white footage. It can’t just be a coincidence that time and space collided in that exact way at that exact moment to put Davis and his quartet in the position to score Ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud. The cosmos was smiling upon us on those two days in the Parisian December of 1957 when the soundtrack was recorded.

And as rock n’ roll befits Bill Hicks and Stephen King, jazz fits Lenny Bruce and Jack Kerouac perfectly. The Beat Generation’s comedian and the Beats’ spokesman have had documentaries of themselves scored by jazz. “The place is roaring,” as Kerouac put it. And many a gig roared to the sounds of Bruce, Kerouac and Davis. So to have Davis’ music included on those documentaries’ soundtracks is as natural as breathing.     

The trick to a good film score is being evocative. And has there ever been a more evocative player than Miles Davis? Souls have been stirred by his music for decades. Coupling that music with cinema, and cinema about Lenny Bruce and Jack Kerouac at that, is a stroke of genius.

Davis can extract any emotion from a body he so desires. He can do it gently like coaxing a stray pet to your door. Or, he can pull it screaming from you like dentistry without anaesthetic. Either way, it’s a beautiful thing to experience.

“The truth is what is,” as Bruce says on track four. Miles Davis’ music is wonderful, magnificent and beautiful. The truth has been spoken. But not a word has been said.

by James Fleming

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