Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe 1967 - The Bootleg Series Volume 1

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Miles Davis Quintet
Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Volume 1
Legacy Recordings
2011

The most—perhaps only—frustrating thing about this first installment in what trumpeter Miles Davis completists can only hope ends up being an exhaustive series of archival releases, is the 44 years it took Columbia/Legacy to release it. Though offbeat catalog oddity Miles in Berlin (Columbia, 1965) managed to snap what Japanese jazz buffs dubbed Davis' "Gold Quintet" (featuring tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, pianist Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
, bassist Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
and drummer Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
drums
) in its cocoon stage, and the exhaustive 8-disc Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (Legacy, 1995) offered an in-depth exposé of the fully-formed ensemble famously recasting traditional jazz warhorses as amorphous art pieces, the bounty of material unearthed on Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 until now has nonetheless been the most glaring missing link in Davis' discography.

As much as that of any contemporary artist, Davis' body of work has been remastered and reissued so many times—and augmented with so much posthumous minutiae of variable quality—that it can be difficult for a non-completist to ascertain which super-mega-deluxe box set is worth the fifty bucks and which one would be money better spent on dinner with his wife at the Olive Garden. Few fans of this era will be surprised to learn just how hard this set falls into the former category.

In addition to the two live sets mentioned above, Davis' mid-1960's quintet recorded five studio albums: E.S.P. (Columbia, 1965); Miles Smiles (Columbia, 1966); Sorcerer (Columbia, 1967); Nefertiti (Columbia, 1968); and Miles in the Sky (Columbia, 1968). The transitional Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia, 1969) and Water Babies (Columbia, 1975) also feature one side of music apiece by the quintet; the flip sides feature later cuts on which Hancock and Carter are replaced by electric keyboardist Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
and bassist Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass
.

In total, that's nine programs of music, each one positively essential; the single duff track in the bunch is Sorcerer's "Nothing Like You," a dopey scat number featuring singer Bob Dorough
Bob Dorough
Bob Dorough
b.1923
piano
(recorded in 1962, with Davis and Shorter being the only members of the quintet to feature) for which Davis berated his label for tagging on without his permission. These records are not uncommonly regarded as foundational works for modern jazz, and even in the landscape they created—which accounts for influence extending far beyond merely jazz—they continue to sound fresh, surprising and inimitable.

Live in Europe 1967 is better than every single one of them.

In fact, Europe—a three-CD/one-DVD set documenting five concerts from October and November of 1967—instantly takes its place in the uppermost echelon of Davis recordings, alongside Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) and In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) and maybe an elite handful of others, as a record that ultimately defines the fundamental essence of who Miles Davis the artist was. What sets it apart is its scope and precision; Europe does everything the quintet's longer-standing discography does only tighter and with greater focus, yet somehow looser and more broadly—a duality almost certainly the product of the virtually superhuman telepathy that lent the title of its first studio record a great, credible irony.

The musical ingredients which have long been the touchstone of this group's reputation are firing on all cylinders—Shorter's Eastern-tinged melodic surprises in "Footsteps" from the second disc's Copenhagen concert, Hancock's tender solo breakdown in "Masqualero" from the same gig, progressive standard warping on four separate interpretations of Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
's "'Round Midnight," each take distinctly different from the one before it. Davis' chops, long thought by many critics to have been in remission since the romantic days of "Stella By Starlight" and Someday My Prince Will Come (Columbia, 1961), here possess a full-bodied bluesy determination that steers the music, that commands it, if not with the traditional lyricism of his reputation then with hard-swinging musical diatribes that are light years better suited to this group's relentless exploratory spirit.

As ever, all is keyed to the swooshing, oceanic riptide of drummer Williams, who plays fiercer and with more collaborative sympathy here than anywhere previously on a Miles Davis record—which says something, insofar as those previous records were themselves evidence enough to garner Williams a reputation as one of the greatest drummers in the world.

Recorded on the cusp of Davis' full-on conversion from jazz to rock—to use two telling if woefully incomplete terms—it should come as little surprise that these concerts consistently have one foot apiece planted in each world, the reshaping of timepieces like Sammy Cahn
Sammy Cahn
Sammy Cahn
1913 - 1993
composer/conductor
's and Jule Styne's "I Fall in Love Too Easily" pointing backwards while sporadic 4/4 rhythms emerge throughout to foreshadow the impending hurricane of Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970). The ability of this group to shift gears on a dime is mesmerizing; the start-stop jerkiness of Antwerp's "Riot" should be awkward and jarring, but never does it feel anything besides perfectly natural, the collective decisions of five men functioning acutely in conjunction on the highest possible artistic wavelength.

This is definitive Miles insofar as any one Davis album can be "definitive," insofar as any single record can provide anything beyond a fleeting snapshot of an artist who five minutes later would have changed again. But across four discs and five concerts, this package tracks those subtle advancements and captures the essential spirit of Davis' music as well as any ever have: the infusing of the old with the new and vice versa, the fearlessness at the risk of artistic failure, and, perhaps most significantly, the refusal to become complacent in the satisfaction of any single artistic success.

What a thrill it must have been to have attended these concerts—and what a shame that they remained vaulted for so long, now that so many of those who did have had forty-four years to either die or lose their faculties before receiving their souvenir.

Tracks: CD1: Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Riot; On Green Dolphin Street; Masqualero; Gingerbread Boy; Theme. CD2: Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Masqualero; Agitation; Footprints. CD3: 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Masqualero; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Riot; Walkin'; On Green Dolphin Street; The Theme. DVD: Agitation; Footprints; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Gingerbread Boy; The Theme; Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; Gingerbread Boy; The Theme.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Wayne Shorter: saxophone; Herbie Hancock: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums.

Track Listing: CD1: Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Riot; On Green Dolphin Street; Masqualero; Gingerbread Boy; Theme. CD2: Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Masqualero; Agitation; Footprints. CD3: 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Masqualero; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Riot; Walkin'; On Green Dolphin Street; The Theme. DVD: Agitation; Footprints; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Gingerbread Boy; The Theme; Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; Gingerbread Boy; The Theme.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Wayne Shorter: saxophone; Herbie Hancock: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums.

Record Label: Legacy Recordings

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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