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Extended Analysis

Miles Davis - Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings, 1963-1964

By Published: September 22, 2004
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Miles Davis
Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings Of Miles Davis, 1963-1964
Columbia Legacy

Seven discs paint a pretty good picture of the sound that Miles Davis gave us back then.

Some of the master's mid-'60s material has not been previously issued. As had been the case time and again, the Miles Davis quintet was reinvented during this period. A perfectionist with a golden tone, the trumpeter demanded no less from his compatriots.

Arranged in chronological order from April 16, 1963 in Los Angeles to September 25, 1964 in Berlin, this superb collection traces the development that Davis wanted, ending with Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.

The eight previously unreleased tracks include Victor Feldman's "Joshua," with cohesive interplay from Davis, Feldman, Carter, George Coleman, and Frank Butler. Davis was in fine form, and the music ran perfectly straight-ahead. Two takes of "Seven Steps to Heaven" with the same lineup, but one moving faster than the other, and one alternate take with a newer lineup and a false start, cement the piece as a standard part of the Davis repertoire. The open horn arrangement makes the most sense, since Davis had a beautiful tone to share.

A thirteen-minute version of "Stella by Starlight" in Berlin with Shorter, Hancock, Carter and Williams makes a pleasant surprise. Davis plays it soulfully, building his featured opening beyond expectations. Emotions run high. Walking bass and ride cymbal keep things even for Shorter's entrance. But he, too, builds his solo section beyond the usual, emotionally. That may explain why the piece remained unissued for all those years. In all, however, it's a welcome surprise: one of the package's high points.

Many of the sessions were recorded at live performances; locations include Juan-les-Pins in France, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, and Berlin.

At the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes in France, Davis led an informal session that found the music just rolling out casually, with his band at a creative high point. As the applause appears during each track, we're tempted to join in. These are longer tracks: the kind that allow an artist and his band to explore in-depth. "Walkin'," with its upbeat tempo and bebop articulation, stretches out endlessly, with Davis, Williams, Coleman and Hancock finding plenty of room to solo. The unheralded tenor saxophonist, in particular, gives his audience something to remember for eternity.

At Philharmonic Hall in New York, we listen in on two sets with Coleman on tenor and Davis' quintet on fire. Again, the longer pieces allow much room for freedom by each artist. "All Blues," with open horn, etches its familiar melody into our psyche and stands apart from the rest for its emotion-laden presentation. Similarly, "My Funny Valentine" gives us a unique performance on open horn that remains unmatched by any other.

Sam Rivers replaced Coleman at Kohseinenkin Hall in Tokyo. The full set, while containing no big surprises, once again allowed plenty of time for individual stretching. The songs are the same, but the interpretations are changed somewhat. Rivers gives the quintet a mellower hue with more restraint. His fluid phrasing gave Davis a strong supporting partner who turned out, perhaps, too much like the leader. Rivers, too, could build his solo spots into something furious and dynamic; however, the bulk of his work remained comparatively gentle. The most noticeable difference came when Davis and Rivers played side by side in ensemble.

Wayne Shorter replaced Rivers at the Berlin Philharmonie in Germany. He gave the quintet a heartier sound. Like John Coltrane, Shorter's energy went through the horn and made everyone sit up and take notice. His full tone gave Davis what he wanted for his rebuilt ensemble. Together, they produced a session that excelled: the same pieces with a different lineup.

Throughout these 1963-64 sessions, Davis plays with his characteristic mood. Whether muted or open, he pours heartfelt emotion through his horn. No one has ever done it better.

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Miles Davis (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass), George Coleman (tenor saxophone on discs 1-5), Victor Feldman (piano on disc 1), Frank Butler (drums on disc 1), Herbie Hancock (piano on discs 2-7), Tony Williams (drums on discs 2-7), Sam Rivers (tenor saxophone on disc 6), Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone on disc 7)

Track listing

Disc 1: Joshua; I Fall in Love Too Easily; Baby, Won't You Please Come Home; So Near, So Far; Basin Street Blues; Seven Steps to Heaven (take 3); Seven Steps to Heaven (take 5); Summer Nights.
Disc 2: Seven Steps to Heaven (rehearsal take); Seven Steps to Heaven; So Near, So Far; Joshua; Autumn Leaves; Milestones; I Thought About You.
Disc 3: Joshua; All of You; Walkin'; Bye Bye Blackbird; Bye Bye (Theme).
Disc 4: Autumn Leaves; So What; Stella by Starlight; Walkin'; All of You; Go-Go (Theme).
Disc 5: All Blues; My Funny Valentine; Joshua; I Thought About You; Four; Seven Steps to Heaven; There Is No Greater Love; Go-Go (Theme).
Disc 6: If I Were a Bell; My Funny Valentine; So What; Walkin'; All of You; Go-Go (Theme).
Disc 7: Milestones; Autumn Leaves; So What; Stella by Starlight; Walkin'; Go-Go (Theme).

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