Possession of previous editions of this singular set simply won't do. After the Ellington at Newport
and The Complete Lady Day
reissues, the engineers at Columbia/Sony command respect as experts when it comes to authoritative, definitive, faithfully represented remasters of indispensable jazz recordings.
This "transitional" group, between Miles' first great quintet with Coltrane and his second with Wayne Shorter, is the equal of the first ensemble and more satisfying than the second. Miles' chops were never better, and as if to make up for the absence of Coltrane, he was playing with uncharacteristic fire and pyrotechnical flare. Jimmy Cobb had practically erased the memory of Philly Joe Jones as the ideal complement to Paul Chambers and Wynton Kelly. No rhythm section ever achieved a greater sense of vitality and vibrancy within the conventional 4/4 walking-bass pattern of mainstream modern jazz. (Many drummers would do well to listen just to Cobb's ride cymbal, noting how little else is required to keep the music fresh and flowing.)
But perhaps the most compelling reason for owning this recent four-CD packaging is Hank Mobley, whose innate lyricism blossoms to a degree not possible on his Blue Note recordings. His sound is present but never "boosted"; it's close and personal but at the same time totally natural, in keeping with the spacious acoustics favored by the Columbia engineers. And his playing in this musical context is so heartfelt and inspired, not to mention melodically inventive, that one can't help but rethink Miles' published criticisms of him: perhaps Miles considered him less a drag on the group than a personal threat to his own melodic approach.
His solo on "Blackbird" is simply astonishing, a rare example of a musician willing to take every risk and hold nothing back in unguarded, naked pursuit of all the beauty the moment is capable of yielding. Following two choruses by Miles, Mobley goes to workfour inspired choruses, each phrase exceeding the previous in imagination and intensity until reaching a climax that is not so much arbitrary as the completion of the journey's own emotional logic. Ranking with Coltrane's "I Want To Talk About You" and Dexter's "Body and Soul," nothing seems the least bit contrived, formulaic, or played for effect. On Saturday night Miles did not call tune.
The audio overall is superior, though not perfect. The separation of piano (left speaker) and bass (right) seems overdone. I found myself rolling back the bass a bit and boosting the treble. But the balance and sound are still more natural and believable than countless current studio recordings where the primary requirement for every musician is to wear headphones. And the previously unreleased material is of such a high order as to make you question some of the choices on the earlier editions. But best of all, at the end of Mobley's "Blackbird" solo you can hear someone in the audience shout "Bravo" three times. I'd like to meet that person, if only to express my thanks.
Personnel: Miles Davis, trumpet; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Jimmy