Miles Davis

Ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud (2024 Reissue)

  • Released: 09/02/2024
  • Label: Decca
  • Genre: Jazz

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Contradictory accounts of Miles Davis’ creation of the soundtrack to Louis Malle’s film noir Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud have all become part of its legend. Rarely has a soundtrack been so decisive. Nearly seventy years on, beyond the myth, this taut, feverish recording, imbued with extreme dramatic tension, remains one of the Miles’ finest records.

The basic outline remains: Jean-Paul Rappeneau suggested to Malle asking Miles Davis to create the film's soundtrack who agreed to record the music after attending a private screening. Davis was performing at the Club Saint-Germain in Paris in November 1957 and on December 4, he brought his four sidemen to the recording studio without having had them prepare anything. Davis only gave the musicians a few rudimentary harmonic sequences he had assembled in his hotel room, and, once the plot was explained, the band improvised without any precomposed theme, while edited loops of the musically relevant film sequences were projected in the background. Bassist Pierre Michelot recalled in 1988 that “Miles just asked us to play two chords, D minor and C7, 4 bars of each, ad lib.” Typically, Miles planned very little but know exactly what he wanted.

François Leterrier, the film’s Second Assistant Director picks up the story: “The session started at around ten o’clock and went on until dawn. The screen in the auditorium was showing the scenes for which Miles had devised some harmonies, and they were edited into a loop. And that’s what makes this music unique: it was entirely improvised in conditions that went back to the days of silent films, while watching frames shot in black and white by cinematographer Henri Decaë: tracking shots of Jeanne Moreau wandering down the Champs-Elysées at night, passing in front of lit window displays or going into bars, while looking for her lover/murderer alias Maurice Ronet … All of us there in the dark auditorium were aware that something extraordinary was taking place, something that had definitely never happened before. […] In the small hours we all met up again at the Pied de Cochon in Les Halles, and Louis was looking at Miles with the disbelieving eyes of a child … as if he couldn’t believe the gift he’d just received. Even in his wildest dreams he had probably never imagined what his film would be like once it had been as if illuminated by the trumpet of Miles, incisive or wrapped softly in cotton.”

The music was released on 10” by Fontana and received the Grand Prix from France’s Académie Charles Cros. It was released in the USA on Columbia as the A-side of the 12” LP Jazz Track, which received a 1960 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Performance, Solo or Small Group. This beautiful re-issue of the original recording is pressed on 180g vinyl at GZ, and packaged in a deluxe gatefold tip-on jacket with Boris Vian’s original liner notes and Jean-Pierre Leloir’s iconic studio photo of Miles and Jeanne Moreau, and an essay on the circumstances that led to this out-of-the ordinary music by Franck Bergerot.

Tracklist

Side 1

1 Générique 2’45

2 L’Assassinat de Carala 2’10

3 Sur l’autoroute 2’15

4 Julien dans l’ascenseur 2’07

5 Florence sur les Champs-Élysées 2’50

Side 2

1 Dîner au motel 3’58

2 Évasion de Julien 0’53

3 Visite du Vigile 2’00

4 Au bar du Petit Bac 2’50

5 Chez le photographe du motel 3’50