Despite all the banging on about Kind of Blue‘s modal improvisation and the fact that “Flamenco Sketches” is very clearly modal, it is nonetheless one of the most perfect pieces of jazz ever recorded. In part because it is pure improvisation set in ultimate structural harmony. It’s free soloing over an organic and conducive ensemble where everything sounds together. The furthest remove from indulgent jazz noodling and ego-exercises on a technical scale; this is emotional and affective music where the means and message merge to become Art. It’s gentle, contemplative and meditatively sparse yet reassuringly intimate. The emotional contour takes in warm groove in one mode and the soul’s weathering of the storm in the next, before returning again to the comfort of late night. It is one of the great extrapolations of the blues ballad form; the heart of music laid bare with grace and maturity.
And it’s Cannonball Adderley’s solo that I find particularly graceful. Coltrane takes the first solo, comfortably navigating the three modes and introducing some of the measures Cannonball will expand. The biggest difference between the horn players is that Cannonball has an amazing faculty for lyric rhythmic grace. His phrasing is strongly suggestive of the human voice. He has a genius for that vocally-rhythmic degree between swing and funky. He bends notes up unexpectedly, he quips and pops little phrases; he sings languid one minute then uses plain hard bop notes the next. And then he’ll sustain the most beautiful note: clear and then with gentle vibrato near the end of the breath. He is fabulously well-punctuated ― one of the finest grammarians of rhythmic phrase and melodic finesse in jazz. Coltrane seems more straight-ahead, the lateral line-man in comparison, his soul a different kind of energy. Cannonball is a sheer optimist, pacing his notes between the beats while staying perpetually fresh (I think he’s the better complement to Miles’ spare musings ― Miles also has an acute rhythmic sensibility, not immediately apparent, but a rhythm that unlocks melodically). Cannonball plants a bold note to clear the air, he sews together heart, tact and intuitive melancholy in a broad sketch of runs and commas, and at 5:12 he performs an amazing, roof-opening octave run that is pure soul. It is no longer improvisation but emotion.
Why is it so humane-affective? “Flamenco Sketches” and indeed all of Kind of Blue implies that at the pinnacle of pure music and art, you’re likely to find a deeply profound but optimistic sadness, a melancholy invocation of loss, tenderly rendered but utterly expressive of soul. A truer kind of beauty, a generous beauty which helps the living with existence. A music that gives something.
Such is the genius of Cannonball wrapped in the genius of Miles and the magic of creation.