Miles Davis’s later style feels a lot like that of Kurt Cobain to me. It’s a weird comparison to be sure, but both had this uncannily similar tendency to step back (or may be aside) from the purely technical.
When I was much younger and first listened to both these tracks, my first impression was they were both making mistakes. Poor Miles, I thought – doing pop covers and flubbing notes. Whereas I just assumed Cobain was just under the influence. But if you had put a gun to my young, empty head, I’d have said they both sounded pretty damn good. I couldn’t have said why though. Now I can.
There’s something about those “mistakes” that’s a little too intentional. Not in the sense that Kurt intended those two strums on the downbeat of 2:08 to be flat: he didn’t practice them exactly like that 100 times to get them like that. There’s no sheet music where his voice breaks a little at point x. And Miles didn’t plan to be a little slow on his fingering at 2:14 so that the transition from one note to the next would be a messy combination of the wrong set of valves being open simultaneously for an instant. If a beginner did that during a lesson, you’d have them slow it down and try again. But when he does it, right at that moment, after all those pure golden tones, it adds something, like that one little rock in a zen garden that’s so obviously out-of-place that you feel like maybe the whole thing was the result of natural phenomena.
They both played a little loose, in the way that only a truly accomplished artist can pull-off. They could ride the edge of chaos just enough to make a performance a living, breathing thing. It’s far harder than it sounds. But it sounds pretty damn good.