The 10 best Miles Davis tracks according to Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick (2023)

VonAlex Skölnick


Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick selects his favorite pieces from the jazz legend's extensive catalogue

The 10 best Miles Davis tracks according to Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick (1)
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I was first introduced to Miles Davis when I was about 19 when I saw a live concert on TV from the early 1980's.

I had just graduated from high school and Testament already had our first album [1987'sThe legacy] and when we went to our second album [The new order] I already felt the need to broaden my musical knowledge and vocabulary: I knew I wouldn't just listen to hard rock and heavy metal for the rest of my life. And Miles really has opened so many doors for me and introduced me to so many other incredible musicians.

As a listener, Miles has probably inspired me more than any other jazz artist: as a player, I'm perhaps more influenced by musicians who have played with him - initially I was drawn to guitarists like Mike Stern and John Scofield and John McLaughlin, and keyboardists like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea - but in terms of being an out-going musician who defied expectations, Miles was a big influence. His use of space is inspiring: there are many musicians who can play faster than Miles and play more notes, but he could say more with less and sound more powerful. As a heavy metal guitarist, playing fast is part of what you do, but Miles certainly had an influence on me in terms of trying to say more with less.

There is so much Miles music to get angry about and it is always a pleasure to talk about him with other musicians: Henry Rollins for example has a great appreciation for Miles and loves his music as much as he does The Damned loves , or Sabbath. It's amazing to imagine that even as he became an institution, with an incredible, groundbreaking, revered catalogue, Miles was still growing and never stuck in one style, and as a result there are musicians in every genre that influences and were influenced by him. I don't see how anyone couldnotbe influenced by his music...

SOLAR (1954)
This is from an album calledgo in', and it's become something of a jazz standard that has since been picked up by a number of other artists. The first version I ever heard was by [guitarist] Pat Metheny, but there's something wonderful about the original recording, it's a blues song but very sophisticated and classy.

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WHAT IS (1959)
This is the opening track onkind of blue, and the quintessence of the album. It was a very groundbreaking recording at the time, for most jazz recordings made up to that time had common chord progressions, mainly either the 'blues' progression or the so-called 'rhythm changes' progression where chords move frequently, but here the chords were held much longer, which has never been done in jazz and which influenced a lot of rock music as whathasn't aged at all, it doesn't feel like old music, and when you listen to it, it transports you to another headspace. If you only ever own one jazz album, you should own itkind of blue. Actually, you should own many more, but at least get this one because it is crucial.

The last song onkind of blue,Flamenco sketches, serving as a bridge to Miles' next album, which wasSketches of Spain, a collaboration with [composer/arranger] Gil Evans.Aranjuez concertwas originally a classical guitar concerto by composer [Joaquin] Rodrigo and differs greatly from the rest of Miles' repertoire. It's very beautiful, and although played by a major modern jazz ensemble in New York, it encapsulates the flavor of Spain beautifully. As a guitarist, I actually heard the original track first because it's considered one of the most important classical guitar recordings, so I already knew the song, but was very pleasantly surprised to discover that Miles had done it too. I recently readWho the hour strikes, by Ernest Hemingway, about the Spanish Civil War, andSketches of Spainwas just the perfect background music for it.

JOSHUA (1963)
In the 1960's Miles had this great output and several great bands and this is a track from the 1963'sSeven steps to heaven. It's a fast, energetic piece and has a bit of a feel to itso what, but in the middle it switches to this very fast waltz, so it's a very unique tune. That band with George Coleman on sax and Victor Feldman on piano was short-lived - Miles assembled his "classic" quintet with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter shortly after - but they just had so much chemistry throughout the album. It's actually difficult to pick the best track on this album - the title track is great, andSo close, so farit's nice - but I think soJoshuais the outstanding.

This is the last of the more "traditional" Miles songs of the period I'm going to single out, and for me it's central to Miles because it takes an early jazz standard and plays it in an early new way: it starts out as Ballad as it's usually played, but then it just evolves into a very energetic, exploratory piece that goes places no one has gone at the time. Recorded in 1964, you can already feel the rock 'n' roll influence on this recording, so it's a perfect bridge between the "classic" Miles Davis and the later Hendrix/psychedelic rock influenced "rock" Miles Davis .

The 10 best Miles Davis tracks according to Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick (2)

Okay, so now we're in the more psychedelic phase and the track I'm going to pick is a live version of thatbitches brew, out ofLive at the Fillmore, merged withThe topic, which is a classic “Rhythm Changes” tune. This version is all about intense energy, almost reminding me of someone interpreting early Black Sabbath but on trumpet and Fender Rhodes, with the skills of these incredible musicians like Chick Corea and British bassist Dave Holland leading the way Game. Thebitches brewAlbum is exceptional, an absolute classic, and introduced the world to brilliant guitarist John McLaughlin.

We're getting into the 80's now and speaking of John McLaughlin, he's reappearing on this album,Aura, an album that not many people talk about. It's a very unusual album, it's actually from an event where Miles was honored with a symphonic composition [when Davis received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize in December 1984] and John McLaughlin plays a key role, but it's mostly symphonic . Conceived by Danish composer and trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, the album is a concept album, an orchestral suite with each track dealing with a theme. the opening track,The introduction, is just amazing, and it was actually one of my acquaintances with John McLaughlin. I first heard the album on a public radio show playing experimental music and wasn't sure what it was at first, but it opened the door to Miles' '80s album: music critic Robert Christgau actually called it Miles' greatest 80's album and I think it won a Grammy.

WHAT IT IS (1984)
This is a song bybait, and I think it's a great representation of Miles' work in the 1980s. You can really hear his funk influence here, it has a very funky bassline, a great slap funk pattern played by Darryl Jones who now plays with the Rolling Stones. Guitarist John Scofield is very prominent here, and his playing sounded very modern and fresh and original to me: Metal guitarists really lean towards the pentatonic scale, but on this piece, John Scofield plays licks based on the so-called symmetric diminished pattern, and it just sounded so fascinating to me, I had never heard anything like it. These are patterns I use in improvisations to this day.

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This has a very simple melody, it's really just a jam over a groove, but where they take it is amazing. The version of it I like the most is on an album calledWe want miles, a live recording, with Mike Stern on guitar, another big influence on me. They have funky bass, ethnic percussion, screaming lead guitar that does very harmonically interesting things, and then of course Miles' trumpet, the jazz element. This type of music wasn't always popular with fans of Miles' early work, but some of us like everything, and this album was actually a gateway to Miles' earlier work for me: I would have discovered albums like never beforeSeven steps to heavenI wouldn't have heard that.

This actually comes from a posthumous publication calledLive all over the world, and to me it really embodies the sound Miles was aiming for in his later years. We obviously just lost Prince - which is very sad, I was a big fan of his too - and Miles was very clearly influenced by Prince at the time. I've just seen a bunch of Prince live recordings shared online and on TV, and you can really hear his impact on Miles on this track: if you've ever heard Princehousequake, this track almost reminds me of that, except it's a bit sped up and the focus is more on instrumental harmonic exploration than funky vocals. They have improvisers going all sorts of places harmonically, and interestingly, while it sounds like there's a guitar here, there's no guitar, instead a bassist named Foley plays a piccolo bass. The keyboard player here is a guy named Adam Holzman who's in Steven Wilson's band now and he's a friend of mine. We recently worked together on an album called ON for a project called Jane Getter Premonition, so that's a connection between Miles, modern prog and actually me.

Alex Skolnick spoke to Paul Brannigan.

Listen to the songs on our Spotify playlist.

Testament are currently working on the follow-up album to 2012Dark roots of the earth, due out later this year via Nuclear Blast. The band will tour the UK in June. For more informations,Click here.

Alex will also be appearing at this year's HeavyCon, taking place from September 30th to October 2nd at London's Excel.Tickets are available here(opens in new tab).

Devin Townsend and Alex Skolnick for HeavyCon

Alex Skolnick: The 10 records that changed my life

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(Video) Alex Skolnick - So What (1994)

Alex Skölnick

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