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Miles Davis-“Black Satin”

This is truly a great example of Miles’ experimental musical predilections. Ensemble is experimental: Tabla, Electric Bass, Trumpet, Synthesizer, Electric Piano, Bongos, Saxophone, Electric Guitar, miscellaneous percussion (drum set, sleigh bells, possibly tambourine). Form is difficult to place in the confines of a traditional understanding. There is clearly a great deal of repetition, which gives the impression of a Hindustani tala or western classical minimalist structure (much like Philip Glass or Steve Reich). Overall the piece bears no resemblance to one specific style, as there are elements of funk, Hindustani classical, jazz, rock and modern western classical. The interaction of the instruments suggests polyphony, as there are vast numbers of distinct melodic lines (most recognizable are the bass, saxophone, synthesizer lines). One could argue that the bass and saxophone exist as solo entities in certain parts of “Black Satin” but it is really difficult to ascertain if they are truly taking a prominent melodic role. It seems more likely that these instruments are simply raised in volume to add tone colors to the piece, rather than to be singled out as solo instruments. The tonality of the piece is a mixture of tonal, atonal, and polymodal, which can result in a rather dissonant work at times. Additionally the piece incorporates a primarily duple meter of 4/4 (one could argue the piece is in cut time based on where certain beats fall).

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4 responses

  1. Just recently bought this album and was reminded of how great it is (don’t have a turntable at the moment so I can’t listen to my vinyl copy). A lot of important musicians played on this album. Upset a lot of people who wanted to hear more like Kind of Blue; Miles figured he’d done that already. I got to see Miles and his band around the time this album came out — amazing of course.

    May 28, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    • oh yeah no doubt. I think what made Miles the coolest was that he always was pushing himself. He never really stayed in one place for long. Of course people hated this album, but that is what it takes to be different sometimes. I mean, just look at how people viewed Ornette Coleman. Some were like “he’s a genius” and others were saying the exact opposite.

      May 28, 2014 at 10:57 pm

  2. Astrid B

    Hello Derek, I’m about to write an assignment about this song, where I’m going to analyse it. Your article has been really helpful. I just wondered, when do you hear the saxophone?

    December 12, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    • Hey there Astrid,

      The saxophone is most noticeable around the 4:20 mark. You gotta listen really carefully. It repeats the “melody” of the track before the tabla and sitar kick in.

      Glad this is helpful!

      -Derek

      December 13, 2016 at 9:21 am

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