'In Miles Davis's hands, modernism wasn't an aesthetic concept at all. It was his way of life'

ALBUM REVIEWS Miles Davis The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel Columbia Legacy CXK 66955

Op Art was the thing in December 1965. Earlier in the year the Museum of Modern Art in New York had mounted an Op-exhibition entitled The Responsive Eye, while autumn's art schedules in the UK had been mildly perked by a cross-media show at the ICA called Between Poetry and Painting, which featured, inter alia, Op Art and words in boggly tension. Modernism was speeding up. It had come indoors from the abstruse outlands of Abstract Expressionism and trolleyed up the aisles of pop culture. Squiggles, checks, whorls and spirals, "things that drive you mad when you look at them" - Op's visual currency was self-consciously revolutionary, got much of its texture from the patterns of commerce and depended entirely for its effects on optical illusion. It was a fix. Which is another way of saying that it was fun while it lasted.

Meanwhile, at modernism's other sharp ends, John Coltrane was disappearing under full sail up a blind creek, and tower blocks were going up in Peckham. You could argue that by the mid-Sixties the modernist idea had done its job and gone out to lunch on the proceeds.

Which just goes to show that you should never rely on isms to know where you are. If, in December 1965, you'd been au fait with Miles Davis for the past decade or so, you'd have become accustomed to the modernist ideal as a cogent and graceful thing expressed with absolute attention to those elements of style which give art purchase on the real world. In Davis's hands, modernism wasn't an aesthetic concept at all. It was his way of life.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Davis always saw the big picture, culturally, aesthetically, sensually and socially. That's what made him a great leader as well as top player and icon of cool. And if ever there was a single, lucent document of Davis's accomplishment as leader and practical modernist then it has to be this extraordinary episode, released in its entirety for the first time since its first furtive appearance in Japan in severely truncated form nearly two decades ago.

The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel, recorded at the Chicago nightclub over two long nights that December, is the nearest we'll ever get now to living Davis's life with him as it happened - fluffs, repetitions, hesitations, glorious epiphanies and all. It's just brief enough - at upwards of seven hours - to be read as a jointed single statement but long enough to make you feel that you're tackling something more substantial than edited highlights.

This eight-CD set is, to all intents and purposes, a slice of real time, and as such it presents an unusual challenge to the listener: not only to time his toilet-breaks with consideration but to engage with the music on a tough basis: without expectation of the organised intimacy that breeds so amiably over the brief, unitary length of conventional albums. You either live the life of the Plugged Nickel as it happens or not deal with it at all. It's possible that your life might be too short.

Which would be a shame, because the Plugged Nickel sets caught Davis's "second great quintet" at a moment of real ignition, at the mid-point between the recording of the beautiful ESP and the torrid Miles Smiles.

Davis's own playing is perhaps not as clear and authoritative as it had been on the My Funny Valentine date the previous year but both his and the new group's language has vaulted into new dynamic territory. Davis's concept of "time - no changes" here is not just a theoretical solution to the problem of how to find freedom in regulated musical space. It's a way to make the shape of music absolutely plastic, without losing its hard, defining edge. The defining sharpness of modernity.

Saxophonist Wayne Shorter is incredible throughout: garrulous, meteoric, bloody and, occasionally, really quite funny. Modernism, to him, must have seemed like life with the brightness turned up. Not a bunch of squiggles to drive you mad but a continuation by other means of the impulse to be real. The set will cost you between pounds 80 and pounds 100, incidentally.

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own