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Miles Davis, Volume 1 and 2 -- Blue Note 1501 and 1502

Marc Davis By

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Enter the album name here Miles Davis didn't record much for Blue Note Records, just three sessions in three years. So it's odd that the very first two CDs in Blue Note's classic 1500 series—the 100 albums from the 1950s that made Blue Note the top label in hard bop—are from Miles Davis.

They're not bad records, but they're not essential Miles Davis. This isn't classic muted Miles, or modal Miles, or Miles with orchestra. And, of course, it's many years before classic fusion Miles. AllMusic.com lists six definitive Miles Davis CDs, which you probably know by heart, and this isn't one of them.

Still, these are melodic and occasionally rocking recordings. They document three sessions, one each from 1952, '53 and '54—just a year or two before the classic quintets with John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. So the sound is familiar, and some of the sidemen are top- notch, including Horace Silver, Art Blakey and J.J. Johnson on some cuts. Other sidemen are less essential, including pianist Gil Coggins and a young Jackie McLean.

This is hard bop in its infancy, the best of which feature Blakey as the propulsive backbeat. Yes, there are ballads that presage the moody, languid Miles of the mid-'50s. One relaxed tune, "It Never Entered My Mind," even features the muted trumpet that would later become Davis' trademark.

But it's the bop that makes these discs worthwhile. Of the three recording sessions, the best is a 1953 sextet with Davis, Johnson and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath on horns, and Blakey on drums. The six powerful cuts from that sessions include two originals by Johnson ("Kelo" and "Enigma"), Heath's "CTA" and Bud Powell's iconic "Tempus Fugit." Unfortunately, the sextet recorded only six short tunes, so Blue Note offers an alternate take for each—not exactly twice the music, depending on your taste for alternate takes.

One notable cut is "The Leap" on Volume 1, a 1954 recording, with Silver quoting liberally from Thelonious Monk... followed immediately by the Monk tune "Well You Needn't."

So, not the all-time best Miles Davis, but also not a bad start for Blue Note's justly famous 1500 series. And not a bad introduction to early Miles, just a short time before he became (arguably) the most famous jazz trumpeter of all time.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5) Availability: Many copies on Amazon, new and used Cost: Under $4 each used.

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