Now that I’ve been through being a monk and getting some realization, I finally can hear it. I used to think Coltrane was the greatest—that he had achieved something transcendental, far beyond anyone else, including even Miles.
I was wrong; now that I have realized it myself, I can hear. Miles realized the emptiness, the dhamma.
Yes, Coltrane pushed musical form to the limit comprehensible to a human being. He created fractal harmonies—3rds and diminished tonalities based on 4ths—far out into the space of harmonic implications. Even with a conservatory music theory education, it took me years to figure out what he was doing.
But Miles had the chops, the balls and the concept, to pick one—just one of those fractal branches, grok it in its fullness, realize its full harmonic and emotional implications, then trim unnecessary cruft until all that’s left is pure beauty.
I believe he got it as early as Kind of Blue; and certainly you can hear it in Sketches of Spain. There’s a beautiful space of listening in these recordings—think of In a Silent Way and Tutu. Miles had the magic of making that miracle happen in a room full of highly paid, highly stoned musicians. How well young musicians can play when they’re really listening!
Miles could afford the best rhythm sections and soloists in the world, a luxury Coltrane never really had. ‘Trane’s music was about form, and took it as far as humanly possible—but not beyond. He tried, but his formlessness was full of pain. He was still caught in being a person. Miles truly went beyond. He could create a form, let it swing hard… and then simply let it go, sometimes all the way into silence.
Miles’ music is ultimately about space. Oh yeah, he could certainly be funky and swing the hardest of anyone. But his music is really about nothing, about the inexpressible beauty of emptiness.