Nefertiti, the fourth album by Miles Davis' second classic quintet, continues the forward motion of Sorcerer, as the group settles into a low-key, exploratory groove, offering music with recognizable themes – but themes that were deliberately dissonant, slightly unsettling even as they burrowed their way into the consciousness. In a sense, this is mood music, since, like on much of Sorcerer, the individual parts mesh in unpredictable ways, creating evocative, floating soundscapes. This music anticipates the free-fall, impressionistic work of In a Silent Way, yet it remains rooted in hard bop, particularly when the tempo is a bit sprightly, as on "Hand Jive." Yet even when the instrumentalists and soloists are placed in the foreground – such as Miles' extended opening solo on "Madness" or Hancock's long solo toward the end of the piece – this never feels like showcases for virtuosity, the way some showboating hard bop can, though each player shines.
NEFERTITI represents the final "straight-ahead" offering by Miles Davis' legendary '60s quintet, the culmination of a creative arc which began with E.S.P.. On four subsequent albums–MILES IN THE SKY, FILLES DE KILIMANJARO, IN A SILENT WAY and BITCHES BREW–Davis forged a fresh creative arc in which he allowed elements of electronics, blues, funk and rock to intermingle with his own post-modernist sensibility to launch the jazz-rock fusion era.
NEFERTITI was the fruition of all Davis' experiments in free form, bebop, cool and modal jazz. Davis's signature as an improviser and musical editor is writ large on each composition, particularly in the provocative use of space. On Shorter's famous title tune, the trumpet and tenor saxophone shadow each other's line in a deliberately inexact manner, almost like a form of silkscreening, as Hancock's piano tolls away suggestively and Tony Williams drops percussive grenades all over the canvas–as if the drums were the lead voice (and don't think they aren't).
Sorcerer, the third album by the second Miles Davis Quintet, is in a sense a transitional album, a quiet, subdued affair that rarely blows hot, choosing to explore cerebral tonal colorings. Even when the tempo picks up, as it does on the title track, there's little of the dense, manic energy on Miles Smiles – this is about subtle shadings, even when the compositions are as memorable as Tony Williams' "Pee Wee" or Herbie Hancock's "Sorcerer." As such, it's a little elusive, since it represents the deepening of the band's music as they choose to explore different territory. The emphasis is as much on complex, interweaving chords and a coolly relaxed sound as it is on sheer improvisation, though each member tears off thoroughly compelling solos. Still, the individual flights aren't placed at the forefront the way they were on the two predecessors – it all merges together, pointing toward the dense soundscapes of Miles' later '60s work.
ESP marks the beginning of a revitalization for Miles Davis, as his second classic quintet – saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams – gels, establishing what would become their signature adventurous hard bop. Miles had been moving toward this direction in the two years preceding the release of ESP and he had recorded with everyone outside of Shorter prior to this record, but his addition galvanizes the group, pushing them toward music that was recognizably bop but as adventurous as jazz's avant-garde. Outwardly, this music doesn't take as many risks as Coltrane or Ornette Coleman's recordings of the mid-'60s, but by borrowing some of the same theories – a de-emphasis of composition in favor of sheer improvisation, elastic definitions of tonality – they created a unique sound that came to define the very sound of modern jazz. Certainly, many musicians have returned to this group for inspiration, but their recordings remain fresh, because they exist at this fine dividing line between standard bop and avant.
Miles Davis' concert of February 12, 1964, was divided into two LPs, with all of the ballads put on My Funny Valentine. These five lengthy tracks (specifically, "All of You," "Stella by Starlight," "All Blues," "I Thought About You," and the title cut) put the emphasis on the lyricism of Davis, along with some strong statements from tenor saxophonist George Coleman and freer moments from the young rhythm section of pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams. This hour-long LP complements the up-tempo romps of Four & More.