Miles Davis ‘Ascenseur pour l’échafaud’ CD (State of Art) 5/5

Atmospheric jazz film soundtracks rarely impress as much as this timeless recording and this is one of the all-time classics. Director Louis Malle enlisted trumpeter Miles Davis, then a young aspiring musician, to view the rushes of the film in the studios and then imagine how that might be translated into musical form. The result is a superb excursion into the murky world of the thriller with beautifully crafted vignettes such as the rapid moving’Sur l’autoroute’ (taking a riff out of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’), specific scenes inside with ‘Julien dans l’ascenseur’, ‘Au bar du petit bac’, and the all too memorable title piece, or ‘Générique’ that seemingly goes on forever. Bassist Pierre Michelot in the inner sleeve notes alludes to how the session work took place at a time when the band were performing live together and consequently developed a close symbiotic rapport that can be heard in the tightness of the ensemble sound, with Barney Wilen operating on saxophone, while the brother of Miles’ then girlfriend, René Urtreger, plays gently on the piano, and there is sensitive accompaniment by Swiss drummer, Daniel Humair.

State of Art have once again spared no expense with a lovely gatefold sleeve that reproduces the black and white still of Jeanne Moreau in her absolute prime and included is both a review (outer sleeve) by French existentialist writer, jazz critic and contributor to the highly influential Jazz Hot, and jazz trumpeter Boris Vian, as well as an inner sleeve (in glorious red background) up-to-date revisiting of the release and how it surfaced first on 10″ vinyl and then on to 12″ LP, placing the releases in a wider historical context in relation to earlier soundtracks from Louis Armstrong and others on ‘New Orleans’ from 1947 and not forgetting its near rival, ‘Anatomy of a murder’ composed by Duke Ellington from 1959. More reviews of this premier league re-issue label will be forthcoming and they cover both blues and jazz, as well as cutting across major record label boundaries.

Tim Stenhouse