In its extensive series of boxed sets detailing the genesis of some of Miles Davis' greatest recordings, Columbia/Legacy has produced one of the most impressive bodies of jazz reissues extant. Their latest Miles box, however, suggests that the curators of Columbia's vaults have started to go a bit overboard.
Round About Lunchtime: The Complete Miles Davis Cafeteria Recordings 1955-1985 collects the highlights (if, indeed, they can be referred to as such) from a massive stash of cassettes surreptitiously recorded on a portable machine by Columbia's longtime lunch lady, Eunice Johnson, who served Miles and many other Columbia artists their chipped beef on toast throughout this period. While there are a few tasty morsels in the set, which give the listener an insight into the Man with the Horn's culinary proclivities, listening to the entire 4-disc package is likely to give all but the most avid fan indigestion.
So what exactly will you hear if you shell out for the set? Well, for one thing, a lot of what sounds like Miles (although it is difficult to be sure it is, in fact, he) slurping, sipping, chewing, and swallowing his lunch (Ms. Johnson had apparently borrowed a powerful field microphone from Fred Plaut, the great Columbia engineer). Not exactly inspiring listening. There are a few interesting moments, however, including:
Miles trying to make hot tea and complaining about the substandard bags, exclaiming "Why won't these m*****f***ing bitches brew?!?! could this be the genesis of one of his greatest fusion works?
Miles railing against the overly "white nature of the cafeteria's offerings"I mean, who the f*** eats peanut butter and m*****f***ing jelly? Probably Brubeck, man
Miles chewing out (no pun intended) Cannonball Adderley for eating too much "Goddamn, Cannon, save some for Bill Evans, you see how thin that m*****f***er is?
The 17-year old Tony Williams begging Miles to go score a beer for him, which causes Davis to erupt with laughter: "M*****f***er ain't even shaving yet, man, no wonder they carding him!
Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between in this set, and it is doubtful that anyone will make it through all of the material. One wonders why Legacy decided to put it out in the first place, and the fact that it comes packaged with coupons for Oscar Meyer's "Lunchables tends to confirm the impression that the whole thing is a cynical marketing ploy. Also failing to inspire confidence is the included flyer touting the label's upcoming release, Time Out! The Dave Brubeck Quartet's Guide to Disciplining Your Child . Let's all hope that this fine record label gets back to doing what it does best, and soon.