A Period of Transition: Miles @ the Blackhawk 1961
The first set makes incredible physical demands on the rhythm section because it’s essentially an up-tempo jaunt through “If I Were A Bell” and the famous leadoff track from Kind of Blue, “So What,” taken at an almost ridiculously fast tempo, each version more than twelve minutes long. Davis enters his first solo in “Bell” several beats early, borrowing one of Charlie Parker’s favorite devices for creating momentum early in a solo. Though this juiced-up “So What” seems to move almost too quickly, Mobley and Kelly revel in their own sounds, Mobley more throaty and deep, Kelly more articulately rhythmic and blue. Davis also sounds more muted and pensive, rolling over a phrase like he’s examining it his mouth like a wine-taster.
In the second set, after a tumultuous “Walkin’” (which comes off more as a sprint and features explosive drum / trumpet passages), Davis downshifts the ensemble and mood into Thelonious Monk’s classic modern jazz ballad “‘Round Midnight.” You’d swear that Monk composed this inscrutably blue melody specifically for Davis’ mysterious trumpet sound; at this slower tempo, Mobley sounds more deeply reflective and blue, too. Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” ends the set on an upswing.
A previously unreleased, gentle yet strong, version of “Autumn Leaves” opens the third set. Davis commands the spotlight and Mobley really shines, as if he had been aching to play a straight-up ballad and groan some moanin’ blues. Davis later whipsaws the band through Dizzy Gillespie’s “Two Bass Hit,” Chambers quickstep walking in perfectly timed notes.
The entire fourth set from Saturday Night was previously unreleased. It is rather romantic, featuring the ballads “I Thought About You,” and “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” and previewing “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Davis’ tone and timing are simply exquisite in “I Thought About You,” his best performance across the two nights. He also gets quite playful with the melody during his “Someday” solo, a light feeling heightened by Kelly’s echoes of Vince Guaraldi in his underlying chords and almost Disney whimsy in his own subsequent solo. Mobley and Davis lay completely out of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” featuring the rhythm section, especially pianist Kelly, to end this engagement.
For this new package, the original liner notes by San Francisco beat columnist ralph j. gleason are supplemented with additional new notes by trumpeter Eddie Henderson, who was in the audience both nights (Henderson’s stepfather was Davis’ doctor and good friend, and Davis often stayed at Henderson’s home when Davis was in California). Henderson’s writing is insightful and detailed (as befits a psychiatrist, his other profession). He notes, for example, that Davis used a French horn mouthpiece, and concludes that, “The difference between the band with Coltrane and Adderley and the Blackhawk band was that the band with Mobley, Kelly, PC and Cobb was more in touch with the ‘people.’ The audience could recognize the tunes. And it swung.”