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Miles Davis: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions

Doug Collette By

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The Miles Davis Quintet
The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions
Prestige Records
2006 (1955-56)

Adorned by a painting rendered by the man with the horn himself, the elegant understatement of the packaging of The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions is wholly in line with the music it contains. The four-CD set—the latest chapter in the seemingly endless, but well justified, series of homages to Miles Davis—captures the entire output of Davis' mid 1950s quintet for the Prestige label.

Following Davis' career-reviving Newport appearance in 1955, he enjoyed the unique arrangment of simultaneous contracts with independent label Prestige and mainstream major Columbia. The music here is a bridge between Davis' early 1950s work and the perhaps more adventurous concept projects of the end of the decade and early 1960s. The set includes one disc featuring previously unreleased live radio and television performances (plus enhanced cd-rom content). The rotation of personnel on these tracks heralds an imminent development in Davis' approach to recording personnel: the planned and deliberate rotation of musicians on Kind Of Blue (Columbia, 1959).

The book-format set comes with the same meticulous attention to detail of at least half a dozen other such compilations, providing recording dates and transcriptions of music, and fact-filled essays by Bob Blumenthal. It's some disappointment that the albums' original liner notes aren't included for historical interest, but hardly a major flaw. The inclusion of transcriptions emphasises the serious and unusual nature of the project: John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins aside, few other Prestige artists have received such extensive, detailed, scrupulous and handsomely packaged anthologizing.

The disclaimer on disc four concerning sound quality reflects the state of recording technology available at the time, and Joe Tarantino's remastering of the live tracks benefits from advanced stereo separation on the original tapes. The reputation of Rudy Van Gelder, who recorded the studio sessions, emerges, of course, undiminished. Van Gelder does himself proud by capturing the depth and expanse of the quintet's sound. Even at this early point in his career, Davis was expert in the judicious use of space and textural contrast.

In contrast to the quintet's poise in their appearance on The Tonight Show (perhaps not such a far cry from Your Hit Parade), host Steve Allen fumbles badly on his introduction of the group. Uncharacteristically cumbersome for a man usually so erudite, he attempts to delineate that chasm between the cultural mainstream and the wondrous world of improvisational jazz, but ultimately just obscures the point he's trying to make.

Reining in their exploratory approach for the sake of a TV appearance is a mark of the quintet's professionalism. It also serves to highlight the single most often mentioned virtue of Davis' own musicianship—his delicate control of his trumpet—as well as the pronounced rhythmic thrust of Philly Joe Jones (drums) and Paul Chambers (bass). The remainder of the live cuts, including "Walkin'" and "Two Bass Hit," were recorded in club settings, and find the personnel of the group in flux as Jimmy Cobb assumes the drum stool and Bill Evans the ivories, while Cannonball Adderley comes and goes with alto saxophone.

It's astounding to reflect on how this boppin' phase of Davis' career, following so closely on his midwifery of The Birth Of The Cool, was not even the mid point of an artistic journey. The second classic quintet with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams was yet to come, as was the expedition into electric funkspace. The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions are but one defining moment in Davis' career and the history of jazz.


Tracks:

CD1: Stablemates; How Am I To Know; Just Squeeze Me; There Is No Greater Love; The Theme; S'posin'; In Your Own Sweet Way; Diane; Trane's Blues; Something I Dreamed Last Night.

CD2: It Could Happen To You; Woody'n You; Ahmad's Blues; Surrey With The Fringe On Top; It Never Entered My Mind; When I Fall In Love; Salt Peanuts; Four; The Theme (Take 1); The Theme (Take 2); If I Were A Bell; Well, You Needn't.

CD3: 'Round Midnight; Half Nelson; You're My Everything; I Could Write A Book; Airegin; Tune Up; When Lights Are Low; Blues By Five; My Funny Valentine.

CD4: Steve Allen Introduction; Max Is Making Wax; Steve Allen Introduction; It Never Entered My Mind (The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, 11/17/1955); Tune Up; Walkin' (The Blue Note, Philadelphia, 12/08/1956); Four; Bye Bye Blackbird; Walkin'; Two Bass Hit (Café Bohemia, New York City, 05/17/1958).

Enhanced portion of CD 4: Transcriptions of Miles Davis Solos: Max is Making Wax (The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, 11/17/1955); Tune Up (Original Studio Version); Tune Up (The Blue Note, Philadelphia, 12/08/1956); Four (Original Studio Version) Four Café Bohemia, New York City, 05/17/1958).

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Red Garland: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Philly Joe Jones: drums; Cannonball Adderley: alto saxophone; Bill Evans: piano.


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