12. Miles Davis, 'Kind of Blue'
This painterly masterpiece would become one of the most important, influential and popular albums in jazz. But at the time it was made, Kind of Blue was a revolution all its own, a radical break from everything going on. Turning his back on standard chord progressions, trumpeter Miles Davis used modal scales as a starting point for composition and improvisation – breaking new ground with warmth, subtlety and understatement in the thick of hard bop. Davis and his peerless band – bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianist Bill Evans, and the titanic sax team of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley – soloed in uncluttered settings, typified by "melodic rather than harmonic variation," as Davis put it. Two numbers, "All Blues" and "Freddie Freeloader" (the latter featured Wynton Kelly at the ivories in place of Evans), were in 12-bar form, but Davis' approach allowed his players a cool, new, collected freedom. Evans wrote in his original liner notes, "Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to pure spontaneity in these performances." Or as the late critic Robert Palmer wrote, "Kind of Blue is, in a sense, all melody – and atmosphere." The bass line in "So What" is now among the most familiar obbligatos in jazz, and there is no finer evocation of the late-night wonder of jazz than the muted horns in "All Blues."