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Miles Davis: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4

Doug Collette By

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There's a theory a nascent jazzlover could build an estimable collection of the music simply by picking and choosing from the discography of Miles Davis and the various musicians with whom he's collaborated over the years. Likewise, the mercurial alterations of style enacted by the man with the horn reflect the evolution of the music itself, never so vividly captured as this edition of The Bootleg Series.

On Vol. 4 At Newport 1955-1975, the ascension of Davis as innovator and cultural figurehead couldn't be more effectively outlined. Just hearing the intros to the earliest recordings, where the man with the horn won himself a recording contract with Columbia Records through his impromptu partnership with Thelonious Monk, among others, is evidence enough as there's no hint of hyperbole but rather admiration and surprise, in the voices of Duke Ellington and Gerry Mulligan. But there's also the clarity and purpose in the musicianship of kindred spirits finding their own level individually and collectively on the stage of George Wein's famous festival.

Hearing these four discs in sequence, the grand leap from these acoustic-based performances, including "All Blues" and "Seven Steps to Heaven," to the electrified (and electrifying!) likes of the late Sixties introduction of In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) and Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) material isn't as awe-inspiring as it might seem after having absorbed the complete 1966 concert of the Miles Davis Quintet featuring bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams, pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter.

The avoidance of what Davis referred to as 'butter' notes thus resulted in suggestions only of the themes and motifs the quintet would explore, but the themes were in fact there to hear with careful listening to each instrument or from one instrument to another: often the continuity of the playing, on a number such as "Footprints," stretched all the way from the rhythm section to the melody instruments,.

In fact, that logic within the progression of style, abstract as it is in the hands of these masters, sounds even more irrefutable in the form of multiple instruments plugged in to generate even greater levels of subtlety in melody and rhythm. Certainly the dynamics were more broad, but players like Dave Holland took the hint to stretch himself and his double bass up and down the sonic spectrum, while pianist Chick Corea explored the possibilities of his electric instrument and drummer Jack DeJohnette worked incessantly all around his drum kit, intent to not just touch the nuances of the sound around him, but also fill any spaces within a selection such as "Sanctuary."

By 1975, the addition of electric guitars from Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas and additional percussion from Mtume turns Miles' music into something of a volcanic flow within which the differing currents carrying individual color mix with the others to create altogether new ones, all of which the soloist at any given moment, such as saxophonist Sam Morrison, shone a light to illuminate. Davis' own horn thus becomes sonic seasoning by design, to the point his admiration for the playing of bassist Micheal Henderson makes perfect sense: the latter's low notes become an undulating foundation especially as drummer Al Foster locks in with him on "Funky Tonk" from July recordings at the Newport off-site venue, Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

The Bootleg Series chronicles Miles Davis' career with the same comprehensive, reverent approach as does the similarly-titled Bob Dylan archival campaign. And in that sense the packages are designed to incorporate durability as much as creativity, with extras often thrown in, here as with The Fillmore Concerts (2014, Legacy), a black and white poster that echoes the vintage tone of the graphics in the booklet, where the meticulous, far-ranging essays accompany a plethora of photos altogether remarkable in the personages they capture from Cannonball Adderley to John Coltrane, Bill Evans and beyond.

These pictures ground what otherwise seems, over the course of these four discs, evolution at such lighting speed, it's difficulty to look back in retrospect and not be wholly amazed by the comparatively brief period of time it took Miles Davis, with the assistance of musicians as like-minded in their fearless approach to playing (especially live on stage), to vault from a well-established tradition into wholly new ones. In essence what Miles accomplished during this mercurial phase of his career was the establishment of his very own set of standards, the likes of which in the form of "It's About That Time," pepper his later sets.

And if the audience applause sounds tentative at first, that's in marked contrast to a purpose and vision in the playing and arranging that makes this music sound as vibrant today as it did then, perhaps, if that's possible, even more so, with the benefit of producers' Steve Berkowitz and Neil Mulderry's eye and feel for detail. Their work reaffirms a common theme to this music, that is, to further the momentum and move beyond just hearing these sounds and, without losing the ethereal quality, to deeply feel them in a visceral sense as well.

Track Listing: CD 1: Spoken Introductions by Duke Ellington and Gerry Mulligan; Hackensack; 'Round Midnight; Now's The Time. Spoken Introduction by Willis Conover; Ah-Leu-Cha; Straight, No ChaserFran-Dance Two Bass Hit; Bye Bye Blackbird The Theme. CD 2: Gingerbread Boy; All Blues ; Stella By Starlight; R.J.; Seven Steps To Heaven; The Theme / Closing Announcement by Leonard Feather. Spoken Introduction by Del Shields; Gingerbread Boy; Footprints ; 'Round Midnight; So What; The Theme; Closing Announcement by Del Shields. CD 3: Miles Runs The Voodoo Down Sanctuary; It's About That Time / The Theme; Band warming up / voice over introduction; Turnaroundphrase; Tune In; fe; Untitled Original; Tune In; Mtume.CD 4: Directions; What I Say; Sanctuary; It's About That Time; Bitches Brew; Funky Tonk; Sanctuary.

Personnel: PERSONNEL: Miles Davis: trumpet, organ; Cannonball Adderley: alto saxophone; Zoot Sims: tenor saxophone; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; Gerry Mulligan: baritone saxophone; Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute; Sam Morrison: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute; Gary Bartz: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Thelonious Monk: piano; Bill Evans: piano; Herbie Hancock: piano; Chick Corea: electric piano; Keith Jarrett: electric piano, organ; Pete Cosey: guitar, percussion; Reggie Lucas: guitar; Percy Heath: bass; Paul Chambers, bass; Ron Carter, bass; Dave Holland, bass; Michael Henderson, electric bass; Connie Kay: drums; Jimmy Cobb: drums; Tony Williams: drums; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Al Foster: drums; Ndugu Leon Chancler: drums; Don Alias: percussion; James Mtume Forman: percussion.

Title: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Sony-Legacy Music

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