Aura (Miles Davis album)

Last updated
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 12, 1989
RecordedJanuary 31–February 4, 1985
StudioEasy Sound Studio, Copenhagen, Denmark
Genre Jazz fusion
Label Columbia
Producer Palle Mikkelborg
Miles Davis chronology

Aura is a concept album by Miles Davis, produced by Danish composer/trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, released in 1989. All compositions and arrangements are by Mikkelborg, who created the suite in tribute when Davis received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize in December 1984, the year Decoy was released. [1] [2] [3] This was Miles Davis's final album released in his lifetime.

Concept album album with a theme

A concept album is an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. This is typically achieved through a single central narrative or theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, or lyrical. Sometimes the term is applied to albums considered to be of "uniform excellence" rather than an LP with an explicit musical or lyrical motif. There is no consensus among music critics as to the specific criteria for what a "concept album" is.

Miles Davis American jazz musician

Miles Dewey Davis III was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical directions in a five-decade career that kept him at the forefront of many major stylistic developments in jazz.

Palle Mikkelborg Danish musician

Palle Mikkelborg is a Danish jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger and record producer. He started playing professionally in 1960, and has since been a dominant figure on the Danish and international progressive jazz scene. He has released several solo records, and recorded with various co-founded groups, as well as appearing as sideman or arranger on numerous international records. Notable international collaborations include appearances with the Gil Evans Big Band, the George Russell Big Band, Gary Peacock, Jan Garbarek, and Miles Davis, for whom he composed and produced the 1985 record Aura. In 2001 he was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize.



The main theme consists of 10 notes, yielded by the letters "M-I-L-E-S-D-A-V-I-S" (see BACH motif, and Schoenberg hexachord "EsCHBEG", and the chart at Musical notes#Accidentals). It is introduced at the beginning over a sustained chord of these same notes. The following 9 movements of the suite represent the colours Mikkelborg sees in Miles's aura.

In music, the BACH motif is the motif, a succession of notes important or characteristic to a piece, B flat, A, C, B natural. In German musical nomenclature, in which the note B natural is named H and the B flat named B, it forms Johann Sebastian Bach's family name. One of the most frequently occurring examples of a musical cryptogram, the motif has been used by countless composers, especially after the Bach Revival in the first half of the 19th century.

6-Z44 (012569), known as the Schoenberg hexachord, is Arnold Schoenberg's signature hexachord, as one transposition contains the pitches [A], Es, C, H, B, E, G, E, B, and B being Es, H, and B in German.

The music is scored for an extended jazz big band, and the core of the band is formed by the Danish Radio's Big Band, featuring Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Thomas Clausen and Marilyn Mazur. [4] Notable international guests such as John McLaughlin and Davis' nephew Vince Wilburn are featured. [5] The sessions took place in Copenhagen in 1985 at Davis' own initiative, as he had been very honored and satisfied with the suite. It was the first time Miles Davis had recorded with a big band for over 20 years. Aura, however, is not a conventional big band jazz album. The music is perhaps best categorized as fusion jazz with a strong flavor of modern classical music, as many of the orchestral passages reveal Mikkelborg's inspiration from composers like Olivier Messiaen and Charles Ives. [6]

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen Danish jazz upright bassist

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, often known as NHØP, was a Danish jazz upright bassist known for his technique and musical approach.

Marilyn Mazur Danish musician

Marilyn Mazur is a Danish percussionist, drummer, composer, vocalist, pianist, dancer, and bandleader. She was born in New York City and has lived in Denmark since age six. She is of Polish and African-American descent. Since 1975, she has worked as a percussionist with various groups, among them Six Winds with Alex Riel. Mazur is primarily an autodidact, but she has a degree in percussion from the Royal Danish Academy of Music.

John McLaughlin (musician) guitarist, founder of the Mahavishnu Orchestra

John McLaughlin, also known as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, is an English guitarist, bandleader and composer. His music includes many genres of jazz, combined with elements of rock, Indian classical music, Western classical music, flamenco, and blues. He is one of the pioneering figures in fusion.

Although the album was recorded at Easy Sound Studios in Copenhagen in 1985, contractual issues delayed its release until 1989. The album won a Grammy Award in 1990 for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance. [7]


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svgStar empty.svg [8]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [9]
Musichound Jazz 4/5 [10]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg [11]

Aura was well received by music critics. Allmusic editor Thom Jurek described its music as "an amalgam of classical impressionism, European new music, jazz, rock, electronic, and other genres." [8] He called the album Mikkelborg's "fine parting gift" for Davis and wrote, "As a tribute and separate orchestral work, it's quite moving and beautiful, full of moody interludes and evocations of nuance, color, texture, and dynamic. With Davis added, soloing in his trademark muted, rounded warmth, the music becomes almost breathtaking." [8] Wes Long of PopMatters called Aura "ruthlessly inventive", an "ever-moody masterpiece", and "quite possibly the last monumental effort" from Davis. [12] Fred Kaplan of New York commented that the release emerged from an era of "mechanical rut" for Davis and called Aura "a jolting synthesis of jazz, rock, and Messiaen-influenced classical music that lit up a future path lamentably unfollowed." [13]

Music criticism

The Oxford Companion to Music defines music criticism as 'the intellectual activity of formulating judgements on the value and degree of excellence of individual works of music, or whole groups or genres'. In this sense, it is a branch of musical aesthetics. With the concurrent expansion of interest in music and information media over the past century, the term has come to acquire the conventional meaning of journalistic reporting on musical performances.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Todd S. Jenkins of All About Jazz commented that the album "successfully blends Miles’ electric style with the feel of his earlier big-band works with Gil Evans, another of Mikkelborg’s prime inspirations." [14] He wrote in conclusion, "Mikkelborg’s work offered Miles the chance to touch once more upon many of the phases his career had touched and then sailed past. If any post- Bitches Brew album by Miles should be considered essential, this is the one. Pure magic from beginning to end." [14] In Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s (1990), music critic Robert Christgau cited it as Davis' best release during the 1980s. [15] In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), music journalist Paul Evans called Aura "an adventurous and pointedly non-pop-oriented big-band suite". [16]

<i>All About Jazz</i> comprehensive American website for jazz enthusiasts and professionals, based in Philadelphia

All About Jazz is a website established by Michael Ricci in 1995. A volunteer staff publishes news, album reviews, articles, videos, and listings of concerts and other events having to do with jazz. Ricci maintains a related site, Jazz Near You, about local concerts and events.

Big band music ensemble associated with jazz and Swing Era music

A big band is a type of musical ensemble that usually consists of ten or more musicians with four sections: saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section. Big bands originated during the early 1910s and dominated jazz in the early 1940s when swing was most popular. The term "big band" is also used to describe a genre of music. One problem with this usage is that it overlooks the variety of music played by these bands.

Gil Evans American pianist

Ian Ernest Gilmore Evans was a Canadian jazz pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest orchestrators in jazz, playing an important role in the development of cool jazz, modal jazz, free jazz, and jazz fusion. He is best known for his acclaimed collaborations with Miles Davis.

Track listing

All tracks composed and arranged by Palle Mikkelborg

  1. "Intro" – 4:48
  2. "White" – 6:07
  3. "Yellow" – 6:55
  4. "Orange" – 8:41
  5. "Red" – 6:05
  6. "Green" – 8:13
  7. "Blue" – 6:36
  8. "Electric Red" – 4:19
  9. "Indigo" – 6:06
  10. "Violet" – 9:04




  1. A prestigious award, mostly given to classical composers and musicians; see official website Archived March 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine . Miles Davis was the first non-classical musician to receive the prize, and was particularly happy to receive the prize when he learned that Igor Stravinsky was one of the earlier recipients.
  2. Prior to the concert, Miles Davis was announced to only play for the last ten minutes of the suite. He eventually played for over 40 minutes, also playing Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman's "Time after Time" and his own "Jean Pierre."
  3. According to Decoy was released in 1983.
  4. It was during the Aura sessions that Davis became fascinated with Mazur's wide range of percussion talents, and he subsequently hired her for his touring band.
  5. At the December 1984 concert, guitarist John Scofield  — then member of Davis' touring band — was featured as guest.
  6. The 10-note opening theme is played freely against a dissonant background chord in a manner reminiscent of Ives' "The Unanswered Question".
  7. "Past Winners Search |". Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  8. 1 2 3 Allmusic review
  9. Larkin, Colin (2011). "Miles Davis". Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN   0857125958.
  10. Holtje, Steve; Lee, Nancy Ann, eds. (1998). "Miles Davis". Musichound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide . Music Sales Corporation. ISBN   0825672538.
  11. Evans et al. Brackett & Hoard (2004), p. 215.
  12. Long, Wes. "Miles Davis: Aura". PopMatters . Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  13. Kaplan, Fred (November 23, 2009). "Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection". New York . New York Media. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
  14. 1 2 Jenkins, Todd S. (September 1, 2000). "Miles Davis: Aura". All About Jazz . Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  15. Christgau, Robert (1990). "CG 80s: Subjects for Further Research". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  16. Evans et al. Brackett & Hoard (2004), p. 219.

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