Even as a child I was intrigued by Miles Davis, much as I am today. His 1965 release, E.S.P., is the first jazz album that I can ever recall owning. It wasn’t until years later that I came to appreciate the awesome talent assembled for this record. For this is the mighty Miles Davis Quintet, that in addition to Miles included the all-star lineup of Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Tony Williams on drums, Ronald Carter on bass, and Herbie (here called Herb) Hancock on piano. E.S.P. was the first recording for the quintet, which turned out to be the longest-lived of all of Miles’ groups.
I have to say right now that although I like a lot of jazz, I don’t know enough about it to give you an expert opinion on the music here. What I do know is how this music makes me feel. Wayne Shorter wrote the album’s title track, and it starts the album off at a breakneck pace. It begins with a riff that is so indelible that I’ve been able to hum it for as long as I can remember. Listening more recently, it’s apparent that for me, Hancock is the real find here. All of the musicians are brilliant throughout, both in solo settings, and as a part of the cohesive whole, but it’s Hancock who stands out. He would record his tune “Little One” again in a few weeks for his classic Maiden Voyage album, but the version on E.S.P. finds that song in an early state, before the arrangement was really firmed up, and it’s very interesting to juxtapose the recordings.
Wayne Shorter would go on to write most of the quintet’s material, and later become a founding member of one of the first fusion groups, Weather Report. He contributes the beautiful, Coltrane-like ballad “Iris” to E.S.P. Tony Williams is simply one of the most astonishing and influential drummers ever to pick up a pair of sticks, and it was here, in this quintet, that he first came to fame. Like Shorter, Williams went on to be a pioneer in jazz fusion. Double bassist Ron Carter has played on over 2,500 albums. His unique sound has made him the most sought after bassist in jazz history, both as a sideman, and leading his own groups.
What’s left to say about Miles Davis. He is one of my musical heroes. He was at least one step ahead of everyone else for his entire career. He triumphed over drug addiction, harsh critics, and audience indifference, to be recognized as one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. E.S.P. finds the great artist at one of the peaks of his powers.