Representing a more intimate and spontaneous side of Miles Davis, this expanded re-release of the soundtrack to Ascenseur pour l'échafaud is a welcome event. Louis Malle was already a jazz fan when Jean-Claude Rappeneau suggested to him that Miles, who was in France for a brief tour, be asked to record the soundtrack; he readily agreed.
By creating a relaxed environment in the studio, where the musicians could view main scenes of the film in a loop and then improvise in response to what they saw, Malle clearly understood that little direction was necessary to Miles. And Miles, with a sympathetic band, including saxophonist Barney Wilen, pianist René Urtreger, bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Kenny Clarke, was able to create music with his typical minimal guidance. In fact, with the exception of Sur l'autoroute, which was based on the chords to Sweet Georgia Brown, Miles provided only the barest sketches of direction.Malle also provided some input, suggesting, for example, a passage of only bass and drums; he also decided, in the final analysis, which takes would be used as final takes.
The whole session took a mere four hours, but the music is magical; with the exception of the brighter, up-tempo Sur l'autoroute and Diner au motel, the pieces are dark and brooding, echoing the noirish feel of the film. A total of twenty-six takes were recorded, with ten tracks being ultimately selected for the film. These tracks were processed with heavy use of reverb and are offered on the first 10" record so that the listener can experience the soundtrack as it was originally intended. The other two 10" records offer the various alternate and unprocessed takes. They provide a window into the collective mind of the improvising unit; they stand both as valid pieces of music as well as further insight into what was, for the time, a truly unique creative process.
Fans of the cool side of Miles will be especially interested in Ascenseur pour l'échafaud; but this recording, which was a landmark at the time, should be of equal interest to fans of soundtrack music, as it represents one of the few times that a true collaborative and improvisational approach was used. And only an artist as confident and focused as Miles could pull such strong performances out of a group that had played very little together; the album is a continuing testimony to Miles' strength as a leader. - John Kelman (All About Jazz)