I used to have a job where I spent a lot of time on trains. On extreme weeks this could be every day and, because part of my role was about promoting ideas of sustainable development, flying to places was generally out. This meant that on extreme weeks I typically found myself in Aberdeen on Tuesday and Plymouth on Thursday.
For a music fan such travel is a blessing and a curse. It took me away from my records and CDs, but also gave me plenty time to listen to my, what are now called, iPod Classics. I had two 160GB versions and used to take around the country with a pair of relatively good headphones and a portable amp. I listened almost exclusively through iTunes in those days (lossless of course) and as a result I knew which albums I listened to the most over that period of around ten years.
Number one with an absolute bullet was ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis, an album I could listen to every day for the rest of my life and not get tired of it. Just look at who played on it:
Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley/ John Coltrane/ Bill Evans/ Wynton Kelly/ Paul Chambers/ Billy Cobb, in addition to Miles Davis
All stunningly good musicians (it was Kelly and not Evans who played piano on the number in question here), they come together on this album in a way that, for me, even exceeds the sum of their parts.
Now, of course, this is by no means the most ‘out there’ of albums that these musicians played on… and in a way that is the point here. Because whether I was working, reading or just staring out of the train window… this album was just perfect as whenever my mind drifted back to it there was always something new to find… a little note or flourish that I had not taken in before. So while there are plenty of occasions when I would want to listen to something altogether more avant garde from the likes of Davis or Coltrane… this fits the bill in so many other ways.
Choosing a track from this album was a tricky one as I think that the whole thing is a real masterpiece. On another day it could have been ‘All Blues’ on which Coltrane is magnificent, or the more experimental ‘Flamenco Sketches’, which Davis wrote with Evans… or even ‘So What’ which is one of my favourite openings for any album.
In the end, though, I went for ‘Freddie Freeloader’ which, in addition to (coincidentally) sharing a name with one of my sons, just takes me to another place altogether. That mix of Kelly’s piano and Chambers’ double bass is one of the great rhythms of my life and, for me, this is Davis’s best number on the album.
Even now as I listen to it I imagine the countryside flying by or, as often was the case, me staring at myself into the darkness on a winter evening as I relax after a long day with a whisky miniature bought in Edinburgh before the journey home.
‘Freddie Freeloader’, then, is a track that has accompanied me around the country shrinking the miles (pun intended), and continues to do so as I remember those days with some fondness… although I’m equally happy only to travel by train for pleasure these days.
In those days jazz was never my passion, despite my fondness for a number of ‘classic’ sets. However, I think that it is albums such as this that have lain dormant in the musical part of my brain… something that has been activated again in the last year or so… so expect more writing about the exciting developments that seem to be happening in that genre at the moment over the coming months.
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