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Extended Analysis

Miles Davis: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions

By Published: November 10, 2006
The Miles Davis Quintet
The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions
Prestige Records
2006 (1955-56)

This box set includes the final five albums trumpeter Miles Davis made for Prestige. Davis recorded as a leader for the label from 1951-1956 and the albums capture an artist in the process of finding his own voice. They also present Davis recording with his first real working group, on material the band had regularly been performing on live dates. And what a band: the rapidly developing saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones.

In the summer of 1955, Davis made headlines in the jazz world with his "comeback" performance at the Newport Jazz Festival (shortly after getting off heroin cold turkey). He was part of an all-star band performing a moving rendition of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," and Davis' playing persuaded the heavyweight Columbia label to sign him (to a deal that would last an astonishing 30 years).

Columbia was able to start recording sessions for Davis' label debut album, 'Round About Midnight, in October 1955, when the trumpeter still owed Prestige five albums. A deal had been struck between Columbia and Prestige allowing Davis to start recording for his new label, providing he also recorded enough material to meet his contractual obligations with Prestige. To do that, the Davis quintet recorded 32 tunes in three marathon sessions for Prestige, between November 1955 and October 1956.

The November 1955 session, which starts this box set, resulted in the album The New Miles Davis Quintet, and begins with a swift take on Benny Golson's "Stablemates." Davis' solo is rich and fluid, his warm tone bursting through. Coltrane sounds a tad unsure of himself, though his penchant for exploring the harmonic contours of a tune is already evident. Garland contributes a nice bop-inflected solo and Jones kicks the tempo along. Other highlights include Duke Ellington's "Just Squeeze Me," taken at finger poppin' speed, and a full rendition of the band's standard sign-off riff, "The Theme."

The next two sessions, in May and October 1956—which make up tracks 7-10 on the first disc and all of the second and third—are the heart of this set. The two sessions together produced the albums Workin', Cookin', Relaxin' and Steamin', cornerstones of any properly representative jazz collection. Davis and the band play the tunes as if on a club date, with no second takes. The high points are too numerous to mention, but include a peek at the modal experiments to come on Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959) on a cover of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," where Coltrane's sharp solo lights a chromatic fire over Jones' rock solid support.

Davis shows off his amazing ability to play ballads with great versions of "My Funny Valentine" and "When I Fall In Love," caressing the melodies with his signature Harmon mute. The quintet also essays some fiery bebop on Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody'n You" and Monk's "Well You Needn't," the latter including a memorable one-hand solo by Garland. Bop warhorse "Salt Peanuts" is played at breakneck tempo: Davis solos for two quick choruses, and Coltrane and Garland take one a piece, setting the stage for a lengthy, volcanic solo by Jones. There's no confusion, listening to Jones' playing here, as to why he was one of the most emulated drummers in jazz for five or even six decades.

Of special note, and something that has given these sessions added collector appeal for a long time, is the studio chatter between tunes. Perhaps one of the most memorable things here is Coltrane asking "Could I have the beer opener?" at the conclusion of "Woody'n You."

The set includes a bonus disc of the first legal release of live recordings the band made for television and radio, including audio of their Tonight Show appearance, replete with hilariously lame quips from host Steve Allen. There are also recordings made at the Blue Note club in Philadelphia and Cafe Bohemia in New York (though it doesn't much sound like there was an audience in the latter during the performance). The material on this disc is likely to appeal in the main to hardcore collectors, some of whom will already have acquired the material via private tape collections and shady grey market releases. One cool thing though is the collection of printable solo transcriptions accessible by loading the disc into a PC.

The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions is packaged in a nice long box sporting a cover painting by Davis and a separate holder for the booklet and bonus disc. The music is wonderful and the set will be of interest to anyone who doesn't have the music contained on discs one to three in individual album form.


CD1: Stablemates; How Am I To Know; Just Squeeze Me; There Is No Greater Love; The Theme; S'posin'; In Your Own Sweet Way; Diane; Trane's Blues; Something I Dreamed Last Night.

CD2: It Could Happen To You; Woody'n You; Ahmad's Blues; Surrey With The Fringe On Top; It Never Entered My Mind; When I Fall In Love; Salt Peanuts; Four; The Theme (Take 1); The Theme (Take 2); If I Were A Bell; Well, You Needn't.

CD3: 'Round Midnight; Half Nelson; You're My Everything; I Could Write A Book; Airegin; Tune Up; When Lights Are Low; Blues By Five; My Funny Valentine.

CD4: The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, 11/17/1955: Steve Allen Introduction; Max Is Making Wax; Steve Allen Introduction; It Never Entered My Mind. The Blue Note, Philadelphia, 12/08/1956: Tune Up; Walkin'. Café Bohemia, New York City, 05/17/1958: Four; Bye Bye Blackbird; Walkin'; Two Bass Hit.

Enhanced portion of CD4: Transcriptions of Miles Davis Solos: Max Is Making Wax (The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, 11/17/1955); Tune Up (Original Studio Version); Tune Up (The Blue Note, Philadelphia, 12/08/1956); Four (Original Studio Version); Four (Café Bohemia, New York City, 05/17/1958).


Miles Davis: trumpet; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Red Garland: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Philly Joe Jones: drums.

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