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Miles Davis: In Person At The Blackhawk

Nic Jones By

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Note: this four disc reissue includes two original 1961 Columbia releases:
Friday Night At The Blackhawk, Complete (Volume 1) AC2K 8709
Saturday Night At The Blackhawk, Complete (Volume 2) AC2K 87100

Here's a transitional band at the height of its powers. Such was the longevity and variety of Davis's career that this music isn't generally considered to be amongst his seminal work, and there's a reason for this: the recorded music that chronologically surrounds these 1961 performances is some of the most influential jazz on record.

This evidence documents the fact that in the midst of quicksilver evolution Davis led a band and worked engagements when that spirit was on hold. They worked, and how they worked. Drummer Jimmy Cobb makes his presence felt here in a way he never did in the studio, and on the 17 minutes of "No Blues" from the first set on Friday night, Kelly, Chambers and Cobb provide a rhythmic bounce that, for all of their adherence to convention, swings hard in a way that works for both Davis and Mobley.

Mobley's suffered through being neither Coltrane nor Rollins, which tells us more about critical perceptions than it does about his abilities. He sounds as fine here as he does at any other point in his career on record, and it's interesting to hear that tone of his outside of Rudy Van Gelder's place. His work gels on "On Green Dolphin Street" from the third set on Friday night, by which time he was clearly at home.

On both nights Davis himself was on form, and nowhere is this more evident than on "All Of You" from the second set on Friday night, where his almost patented less-is-more approach with the Harmon mute in place enables him to cut virtually every other trumpeter of the time. In fact, over the course of two nights, this set for whatever reason is the band's definitive statement; Kelly's playing on "Bye Bye Blackbird" is the work of a man with all the time in the world by way of confirmation.

By Saturday night the band was really bedded in, and Frank Loesser's "If I Were A Bell," which by this time had been in Davis's book for a number of years, is taken at a tempo that Davis, as was his way, manages to make sound hurried through the simple expedient of economy of expression. Elsewhere, as on "Walkin'," a balance is more finely struck, a development which only the most empathetic of musicians could bring about - here the leader's an extrovert at the same time that he retains that innate ability to spontaneously edit his work.

Throughout these sets the band works against the grain of the compositions they perform. "'Round Midnight," from Saturday's second set, reaches the falsest of false endings at 3:20, before Mobley eventually gets his own lyrical way with the song. Here as throughout he retains his musical identity despite the fact that he was keeping the allegedly faster company of the leader.

Ultimately, both of these double disc sets document a working band. Like the blowing date, a working band going about its business might well now be taken for granted, which would be more than a little unfair. We are not so blessed with musical riches in the here and now that we can afford to disregard what's on this record. Updated and considerably expanded, what we are thus presented with is a snapshot of a band in transition at the same time as we have five men fashioning spontaneous art.


Track Listing: FRIDAY NIGHT. Disc 1, Set One: Oleo, No Blues, Bye Bye (Theme); Set Three: If I Were A Bell, Fran Dance, On Green Dolphin Street, The Theme; Disc 2, Set Two: All Of You, Neo, I Thought About You, Bye Bye Blackbird, Walkin', Love, I've Found You.

Personnel: MILES DAVIS, Trumpet; HANK MOBLEY, Tenor Saxophone; WYNTON KELLY, Piano: PAUL CHAMBERS, Bass; JIMMY COBB, Drums.

Title: In Person At The Blackhawk | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Columbia Records

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