Miles Davis: Year-Long Celebration of Five Decades and Many Miles

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On October 27, 1955, Miles Davis signed with Columbia Records, where the mercurial trumpeter, composer, bandleader and conceptualist remained through most of his career. After 1955, Davis recorded and released nearly all of his greatest music through Columbia. Now part of Sony / Legacy, the label has embarked on a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of that contract signing by releasing a succession of new and newly-remastered titles throughout 2005.

The series began this past January with three releases: The remastered single-CD version of My Funny Valentine, a set of ballads aflame with Davis' whispered intensity; the Kind of Blue DualDisc, which combines an audio CD of his classic 1958 album (plus the only available studio alternate take) with a DVD that presents the album in 5.1 Surround Sound plus a 25-minute documentary on the making of the album; and the remastered single-CD version of A Tribute to Jack Johnson issued to coincide with Ken Burns' PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

It is worth mentioning that Davis himself would have most likely hated these reissues as "been there, done that. Most likely? Almost definitely! Still, they provide valuable mileposts for devotees and the curious who may be traveling these Miles for the first time.


'Round About Midnight: Legacy Edition
Seven Steps to Heaven
'Four' & More Recorded Live in Concert
Miles Davis in Europe
Miles in Tokyo
Miles in Berlin
The Best of Seven Steps
The Cellar Door Sessions 1970

New Beginnings

'Round About Midnight: Legacy Edition (1955-56)
With John Coltrane and Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Gerry Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Red Garland and Thelonious Monk, piano; Paul Chambers and Percy Heath, bass; Philly Joe Jones and Connie Kay, drums.

The series' most recent installment is a deluxe two-CD version of Davis' first studio album for Columbia at the helm of his first great quintet with Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Jones.

The beauty and genius of Davis' balladry on 'Round About Midnight is justifiably legend. "His playing is characterized by both the nervous, jagged lines of the bop school, wrote producer George Avakian for its original liner notes, "and the pensive relaxation of the cool period which followed. It opens with his profound meditation on the Thelonious Monk composition that inspired its title, and its brilliance continues with his muted playing through two pop selections, "All of You and especially the stark opening to "Bye Bye Blackbird, where he sounds like a man sad and utterly alone.

Though this reissue provides four new, unreleased studio takes on disc one, its true bonus harvest comes from a previously unreleased 1956 concert by this band—now the first commercially available live performance by the first great Miles Davis quintet—on disc two.

It's a performance that looks both forward and back, played with so much energy! Its centerpiece is an early recording of the elegant, celebrated "Walkin' blues, a staple of Davis' repertoire into the next decade, illuminated with probing, burning explorations from Coltrane, Garland and Chambers. But it also includes rare examples of Davis revisiting with 'Trane, a more modern player, the bebop style that the leader was resolutely leaving behind: The rhythm section scrambles the opening "Max is Making Wax ; later, the band whipsaws and bounces through "Woody N'You and "Salt Peanuts, featuring Davis' space-walk along Dizzy Gillespie's upper trumpet stratosphere and hard-rocking beatdowns from Jones. Davis always killed at least one ballad in concert; in this case, the quiet, direct "It Never Entered My Mind, a remembrance haunted by gorgeous piano and trumpet.

This new concert is prefixed by Davis' famous performance of "'Round Midnight with Monk at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival: Sitting in with Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims from the Mulligan Sextet, bassist Percy Heath and Connie Kay (the Modern Jazz Quartet rhythm section), and pianist Monk, his opening solo to "'Round Midnight at Newport sounds as good as anything that Davis ever played. Ever played. It was the strength of this performance that compelled Avakian, who was attending the festival and served on Columbia staff, to sign Davis to his Columbia contract.

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Repositioned Transitions

The celebration continued this past March, with the release as six standalone titles of the material that collectively comprised last year's deluxe The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-64 box set.

Seven Steps to Heaven (1963)
With George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock and Victor Feldman, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Frank Butler, Tony Williams, drums.

This truly transitional recording straddles two different bands. Davis, Coleman and Carter recorded most of this material with Feldman and Butler in Los Angeles.

Davis' extended solo to open "Basin Street Blues seems to float in time, and sounds simply timeless. He continuously brings together then shreds apart the definitions of "ballad and "blues : Playing so beautifully it sounds like a ballad, painting in the pained and resolute tonal colors of the blues. Coleman lays out on the other blues, "Baby Won't You Please Come Home ; the extra space gives Feldman room to explore harmonies like Bill Evans, and Davis' unrelenting reinvention of the melody and feeling of this blues is consistently profound.

Recorded in New York, "Joshua and the title track were the trumpeter's first dates with Hancock and Williams, and offer the first recorded preview of Davis' "second great quintet.

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'Four' & More Recorded Live in Concert (1964)
With George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Tony Williams, drums.

This reissue makes the original album available on CD for the first time in the US. This set of up-tempo numbers is the complement to the set of ballads from these performances released as the album My Funny Valentine.

"The tempos border on ridiculous, the original liner notes correctly observe, as the band plays like they're already running late for the last plane home. "So What, for example, the light yet compact blues from Kind of Blue, shifts gears from a trot through a gallop to flat-out sprint, its chords whipping past so quickly that they're felt more than heard, and then they're gone!

Davis has said that Coleman "played better that night than I had ever heard him play. The saxophonist blows pure fire in "Joshua and "Seven Steps and hits 'em long and hard and straight in "There Is No Greater Love, swing of the straight-ahead variety you rarely heard from any Davis band.

'Four' feels like the beginning of something amazing, especially in the rhythm section, where you hear Williams mutating the jazz drummer's concepts of melody and time with playing as liquid and shiny as mercury.

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Three From the Road

This series also includes three concerts with the Hancock/Williams/Carter rhythm section plus either saxophonist Coleman, Sam Rivers, or Wayne Shorter. Each concert is now available as a standalone CD title for the first time in the US, and each shows Davis' vision focused on opening up the angular rhythms and blues of be-bop into more modern currents: On turning "bebop into "free-bop.

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