The Miles Davis Quintet The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions Prestige Records
Miles (aka The New Miles Davis Quintet), Workin', Relaxin', Steamin' and Cookin' were the titles of the original Miles Davis Quintet LPs for Prestige that make up the first three (of four) CDs of this yet-again repackaging of what have become among the most familiar sides of Davis' recorded oeuvre. (The other studio album by this band was 'Round About Midnight on Columbia, also recently reissued). This was the classic 1955-56 quintet, with John Coltrane (tenor sax, no soprano yet), Red Garland (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). These recordings have never been out of print and have been reissued many times, including, exactly as chronologically programmed here, as the last three CDs of the 8-CD box, Miles Davis Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings, 1951-1956.
So, what's new here? Why do we need this package? Actually, there is some new material, live recordings taken from broadcasts by the quintet and a later version with Bill Evans, on the fourth CD, which also is enhanced with transcriptions of Davis' solos on five tracks. The transcriptions are fine for musicians and the broadcast tapes are nice finds, though hardly essential. What the 1958 quintet tracks with Evans demonstrate are essentially that the chemistry Garland brought to the classic quintet could not be duplicated or equaled, even by a pianist as prodigiously talented as Evans.
So it's that oft re-packaged material from those five original one-word title LPs that is the mother lode here, the essential and classic recordings by one of the most distinct and influential quintets in jazz. Along with the Kind of Blue sextet, this was Miles Davis' most popular and accessible band, one that even people who don't care for jazz can enjoy. Like the even more popular Dave Brubeck Quartet of the same era, this Miles Davis Quintet perfectly balanced and contrasted opposites in its main soloists, but while Brubeck had only alto saxophonist Paul Desmond as a foil, Miles had Coltrane's freneticism and Garland's sprightliness to set off his own spare, lyric intimacy. And both bands were blessed with superb drummers (Brubeck's Joe Morello, Miles' Jones) who knew how to shift gears behind different soloists while infectiously swinging.
These studio sessions, which did much to define the way bands approached the longer track format of LPs, range from ballads and mid-tempo swingers to flat-out bebop and hard bop, but performed with a polish and elegance that makes them all of a piece. No matter what the material, there's no mistaking the sound of this band. Like the best music of the mid '50s, from Count Basie and Duke Ellington to Frank Sinatra, this Davis quintet had elegance and panache. Davis introduced a new repertoire of standards, much as Sinatra was doing on his Capitol albums and a new way of playing them with his sensual, insinuatingly intimate Harmon mute pressed against the microphone. With that mute and arrangements borrowing the structure of Ahmad Jamal's approach to melodies, including spatial dynamics, interludes, tags and transitions, this quintet created a new paradigm for songs like "If I Were A Bell," "My Funny Valentine," "Just Squeeze Me" and "Surrey with the Fringe On Top."
By the early '60s, Miles had effectively abandoned the marvelous popular songbook standards that so stand out on these recordings. This quintet was the last full flowering of a style of jazz accessible to lovers of good pop music that was also critically acclaimed and lauded by jazz fans. It does live on, on countless bandstands and recordings, where it is often considered neo- or retro- when it should be considered simply classic jazz.
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: The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, 11/17/1955: Steve Allen Introduction; Max Is Making Wax; Steve Allen Introduction; It Never Entered My Mind. The Blue Note, Philadelphia, 12/08/1956: Tune Up; Walkin.' Café Bohemia, New York City, 05/17/1958: Four; Bye Bye Blackbird; Walkin'; Two Bass Hit.
Enhanced portion of CD4: 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).
Miles Davis: trumpet; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Red Garland: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Philly Joe Jones: drums.