It is possible to boil a musician's extensive career down into two CDs.
This year, in honor of what would have been trumpeter Miles Davis' 75th birthday, Columbia/Legacy Recordings has compiled The Essential Miles Davis, a collection that spans nearly four decades of Davis' eclectic career.
From "So What" to "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," Davis never stopped experimenting with new ideas and sounds.
He made the blues his own. He added orchestra instruments to his lineup. He turned pop standards into jazz jewels. He gathered some of the greatest musicians to perform and stretch their creative boundaries. He combined rock 'n' roll rhythms and electronic instruments with jazz improvisation, creating a rift within the jazz community.
This collection does a nice job giving snippets of Davis' long and winding road. There are the usual suspects: a song from the groundbreaking Birth of the Cool; tracks from Davis' collaborations with arranger Gil Evans; a tune from Kind of Blue that made mode scales fashionable; a song from the genre-bending album Bitches Brew.
And the list of people Davis collaborated with on these recordings is phenomenal: Charlie Parker. John Coltrane. Horace Silver. Gerry Mulligan. Sonny Rollins. Tony Williams. Chick Corea. John McLaughlin.
But it's the lesser-known songs on the collection that deserve attention. Davis' solo on "Generique" from the French film "Ascenseur pour L'echafaud" is melancholy, yet soulful (the echo certainly adds to the mystery).
"Nefertiti" is a simple melody played by Davis and saxophonist Wayne Shorter throughout the piece, leaving the rhythm section to doodle around.
Davis' songs from late 1960s and early 1970s may seem unsettling to the ears at first, but you'll begin to appreciate his electronically altered trumpet sound for the haunting "Little Church."
In all, The Essential Miles Davis provides listeners with the most important and influential recordings of this jazz legend.
Track Listing: Disc 1: Now's the Time, Jeru, Compulsion, Tempus Fugit, Walkin', 'Round Midnight, Bye Bye Blackbird, New Rhumba, Generique, Summertime, So What, The Pan Piper, Someday My Prince Will Come. Disc 2: My Funny Valentine, E.S.P., Nefertiti, Petits Machins (Little Stuff), Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, Little Church, Black Satin, Jean Pierre, Time After Time, Portia.