A Song For A Day: ‘He Loved Him Madly’

As I was sitting in the train back from Utrecht to my home in northern Holland, watching all the people dressed in pink getting ready to watch all the boats at Canal Parade, it occurred to me what a funny coincidence it was that I was listening to Miles Davis’ ‘He Loved Him Madly’. That was the starting gun for a new section covering songs that are appropriate for specific days.

Of course, ‘He Loved Him Madly’ isn’t about any gay relationship. Instead, it is a tribute to the great Duke Ellington, who had died shortly before the recordings. The title is a reference to Sir Duke’s ‘Love You Madly’ and the song is a slow – almost unbearably so – dirge. Almost, because there is this tension in the song that gives the song something irresistible. Where many of these drone bands fail to hold my attention, ‘He Loved Him Madly’ succeeds.

During the first ten minutes of this half hour song, nothing much happens, but you feel this tension hanging in the air. Al Foster’s snares provide something like a funeral march, Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas deliver some seemingly random chords and notes and Davis’ own organ puts down a groundwork of chords. Shortly past the ten-minute mark, Foster starts playing a somewhat more conventional rhythm, Cosey and Lucas seem to improvise some riffs that are incredibly moving and Dave Liebman’s alto flute solo seems to be the truly sad tribute to Sir Duke.

The desolation of Davis’ trumpet solo is truly remarkable. Also, both Liebman and Davis seem to have the perfect amount of reverb and the same can be said of the delay on the guitars. Meanwhile, Foster’s drums keep swelling in volume ever so subtly, until they suddenly fade. For a 32 minute song, the ending is surprisingly abrupt. I’m not sure if Duke Ellington would appreciate this kind of a song, but it’s a heartfelt tribute and a fantastic song, jam or vamp, whatever you prefer.

If you watch the video and it finishes, be sure to click on part 2 as well. It’s the most interesting bit and YouTube doesn’t allow songs this long. My collection does though!

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