Miles Davis: The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991

John Kelman By

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Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991
Eagle Eye Media

With the release of Live at Montreux: Highlights 1973-1991 (Eagle Eye Media, 2011) a couple of months back, notice was served of a much more ambitious collection, bringing together all of Miles Davis' concerts at the esteemed Swiss festival, from the summer of 1973 through to less than 90 days before the trumpet legend's untimely passing on September 28, 1991, only a few months past his 65th birthday. For those who shelled out big bucks for the 20-CD box set, The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 (Sony, 2002), there's nothing new to be heard on the 10-DVD Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991 in terms of concert footage—if anything, there's a little less, but with good reason.

It appears that only the 28-minute "Ife" was captured in both audio and video format from Davis' July 8, 1973 performance, and so Montreux mastermind Claude Nobs fleshes out that potentially brief DVD with nearly two hours of interview footage with everyone from guitarist Carlos Santana and pianist Herbie Hancock to singer Helen Merrill, pianist Monty Alexander...and, of course, Nobs himself, whose own stories about Davis are understandably legion. The audio box also included a performance from nearby Nice as a bonus disc that presented Davis' last touring band in its final public appearance, since the trumpeter's final Montreux show, 11 days earlier, was a once-in-a-lifetime look back (from an artist who'd steadfastly remained all about looking forward) at the music he'd made with composer/arranger Gil Evans in the 1950s, performed here with the supersized combination of the Gil Evans Orchestra and George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band. The omission of the Nice performance on the DVD box is, of course, understandable; Nobs has and had complete control over what was recorded at his own festival (and the attendant rights to use it), but likely had no such arrangement with Nice, if that festival even recorded it in video at all.

With the ongoing series of DVD issues from nearly 50 years of Montreux, it's been clear for some time that Nobs— in addition to being a visionary with his idea for a festival at the small, scenic town on Lake Geneva—knew exactly what he was doing, recording almost every show. This vital documentation has not only set Nobs up with a pretty sweet retirement income, it's become an essential record of jazz history over the past half century, with everyone from saxophonist Wayne Shorter (both with and beyond Weather Report), guitarist John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra (and with a similarly large audio box of McLaughlin's Montreux appearances already out, does that mean a DVD box is far behind?), and the enduring duo of pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton as just a very small handful of artists included in a library that's increasing at a rate unaffordable to the average bear, but which is certainly a compelling reason to look for a part-time second job.

1973, from left: Dave Liebman, James Mtume, Miles Davis

That said, Miles! The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection 1973-1991 works out to about $14/DVD, providing 20 hours of vintage late-period Davis with bands that included important then-up-and-comers like guitarist John Scofield and saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Bob Berg. The chance to catch not just one, but two shows per year in the 1984-85 time that Scofield was in the band, makes the collection all the more important. This is jazz, of course, and most folks know that performances vary from night to night, but the chance to experience the same band performing the identical repertoire twice during the same day is a particularly good opportunity to watch and hear this key jazz ethos in action.


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