Song 343: Miles Davis Nonet, “Move” (1957)

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It seems strange to single out “Move” from Miles Davis’ body of work, since Davis didn’t even write or arrange the song. But Birth of the Cool is a strange, fascinating record, and I love its opening track, which is something of a catchy gateway to the (slightly) more abstract songs to follow.

In 1947, arranger Gil Evans met with Miles Davis about forming a nonet that would reflect the sounds that Evans was hearing in his “salon,” a group of New York musicians trying something new. Jazz historian Ted Gioia wrote that “they explored new instrumental textures, preferring to blend the voices of the horns like a choir rather than pit them against each other as the big bands had traditionally done with their thrusting and parrying sections.” Though Birth of the Cool was released in 1957, its songs were recorded in 1949 and 1950 and released in those years as 78-rpm singles. As the record’s title implies, these songs helped usher in the “cool” jazz movement, a subdued style that incorporates atonality and somewhat conservative improvisation styles.

Cool‘s innovative approach to arrangement—instruments paired together for melodies, harmonies and counterpoints—works wonders on “Move.” Trumpet and alto saxophone handle the melody, trombone and French horn on harmonies, and baritone saxophone and tuba (tuba!) on counterpoint. The paired approach gives each note a slight discordance, much like two voices singing the same note would naturally produce a little bit of variation. Davis later said that he “wanted the instruments to sound like human voices … and they did.” The overall result is a meticulously arranged song with an unnerving, but exciting, quality. And it’s catchy as hell.

When the Miles Davis Nonet singles were released, they didn’t garner much attention. By the time of Birth of the Cool seven years later, however, the nonet’s influence had been widely recognized. Today, it sounds simply like jazz—which is a testament to just how important the Nonet, and its contemporaries, was.

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