Miles Davis Quintet Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Volume 1 Legacy Recordings
The mostperhaps onlyfrustrating thing about this first installment in what trumpeter Miles Davis completists can only hope ends up being an exhaustive series of archival releases, is the 44 years it took Columbia/Legacy to release it. Though offbeat catalog oddity Miles in Berlin
(Columbia, 1965) managed to snap what Japanese jazz buffs dubbed Davis' "Gold Quintet" (featuring tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter
, pianist Herbie Hancock
, bassist Ron Carter
and drummer Tony Williams
) in its cocoon stage, and the exhaustive 8-disc Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel
(Legacy, 1995) offered an in-depth exposé of the fully-formed ensemble famously recasting traditional jazz warhorses as amorphous art pieces, the bounty of material unearthed on Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1
until now has nonetheless been the most glaring missing link in Davis' discography.
As much as that of any contemporary artist, Davis' body of work has been remastered and reissued so many timesand augmented with so much posthumous minutiae of variable qualitythat it can be difficult for a non-completist to ascertain which super-mega-deluxe box set is worth the fifty bucks and which one would be money better spent on dinner with his wife at the Olive Garden. Few fans of this era will be surprised to learn just how hard this set falls into the former category.
In addition to the two live sets mentioned above, Davis' mid-1960's quintet recorded five studio albums: E.S.P.
(Columbia, 1965); Miles Smiles
(Columbia, 1966); Sorcerer
(Columbia, 1967); Nefertiti
(Columbia, 1968); and Miles in the Sky
(Columbia, 1968). The transitional Filles de Kilimanjaro
(Columbia, 1969) and Water Babies
(Columbia, 1975) also feature one side of music apiece by the quintet; the flip sides feature later cuts on which Hancock and Carter are replaced by electric keyboardist Chick Corea
and bassist Dave Holland
In total, that's nine programs of music, each one positively essential; the single duff track in the bunch is Sorcerer's
"Nothing Like You," a dopey scat number featuring singer Bob Dorough
(recorded in 1962, with Davis and Shorter being the only members of the quintet to feature) for which Davis berated his label for tagging on without his permission. These records are not uncommonly regarded as foundational works for modern jazz, and even in the landscape they createdwhich accounts for influence extending far beyond merely jazzthey continue to sound fresh, surprising and inimitable. Live in Europe 1967
is better than every single one of them.
In fact, Europe
a three-CD/one-DVD set documenting five concerts from October and November of 1967instantly takes its place in the uppermost echelon of Davis recordings, alongside Kind of Blue
(Columbia, 1959) and In a Silent Way
(Columbia, 1969) and maybe an elite handful of others, as a record that ultimately defines the fundamental essence of who Miles Davis the artist was. What sets it apart is its scope and precision; Europe
does everything the quintet's longer-standing discography does only tighter and with greater focus, yet somehow looser and more broadlya duality almost certainly the product of the virtually superhuman telepathy that lent the title of its first studio record a great, credible irony.
The musical ingredients which have long been the touchstone of this group's reputation are firing on all cylindersShorter's Eastern-tinged melodic surprises in "Footsteps" from the second disc's Copenhagen concert, Hancock's tender solo breakdown in "Masqualero" from the same gig, progressive standard warping on four separate interpretations of Thelonious Monk
's "'Round Midnight," each take distinctly different from the one before it. Davis' chops, long thought by many critics to have been in remission since the romantic days of "Stella By Starlight" and Someday My Prince Will Come
(Columbia, 1961), here possess a full-bodied bluesy determination that steers the music, that commands
it, if not with the traditional lyricism of his reputation then with hard-swinging musical diatribes that are light years better suited to this group's relentless exploratory spirit.
As ever, all is keyed to the swooshing, oceanic riptide of drummer Williams, who plays fiercer and with more collaborative sympathy here than anywhere previously on a Miles Davis recordwhich says something, insofar as those previous records were themselves evidence enough to garner Williams a reputation as one of the greatest drummers in the world.
Recorded on the cusp of Davis' full-on conversion from jazz to rockto use two telling if woefully incomplete termsit should come as little surprise that these concerts consistently have one foot apiece planted in each world, the reshaping of timepieces like Sammy Cahn
's and Jule Styne's "I Fall in Love Too Easily" pointing backwards while sporadic 4/4 rhythms emerge throughout to foreshadow the impending hurricane of Bitches Brew
(Columbia, 1970). The ability of this group to shift gears on a dime is mesmerizing; the start-stop jerkiness of Antwerp's "Riot" should be awkward and jarring, but never does it feel anything besides perfectly natural, the collective decisions of five men functioning acutely in conjunction on the highest possible artistic wavelength.
This is definitive Miles insofar as any one Davis album can be "definitive," insofar as any single record can provide anything beyond a fleeting snapshot of an artist who five minutes later would have changed again. But across four discs and five concerts, this package tracks those subtle advancements and captures the essential spirit of Davis' music as well as any ever have: the infusing of the old with the new and vice versa, the fearlessness at the risk of artistic failure, and, perhaps most significantly, the refusal to become complacent in the satisfaction of any single artistic success.
What a thrill it must have been to have attended these concertsand what a shame that they remained vaulted for so long, now that so many of those who did have had forty-four years to either die or lose their faculties before receiving their souvenir.
Tracks: CD1: Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Riot; On Green Dolphin Street; Masqualero; Gingerbread Boy; Theme. CD2: Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Masqualero; Agitation; Footprints. CD3: 'Round Midnight; No Blues; Masqualero; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Riot; Walkin'; On Green Dolphin Street; The Theme. DVD: Agitation; Footprints; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Gingerbread Boy; The Theme; Agitation; Footprints; 'Round Midnight; Gingerbread Boy; The Theme.
Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; Wayne Shorter: saxophone; Herbie Hancock: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums.