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Some nine years after Miles Davis’ untimely death, Columbia Records is still repackaging his recorded legacy. The most recent efforts in this area have been made available both on compact disc and in 180-gram vinyl versions by way of Mosaic Records. It is the latter edition that this review is based on, though it should be noted that basically the only difference between the two sets, besides the presentation medium, is that Mosaic’s package is a 12 x 12 box with an album-sized booklet accompanying the records.
For the purposes of this latest Davis package, Columbia/Mosaic has chosen to gather work featuring Davis and tenor man John Coltrane recorded between 1955 and 1961. As a result, you’ll be sure to find such historically important albums as ’Round About Midnight, Milestones, and Kind of Blue. In fact, it is these key recordings that make up a large amount of the material collected here. Davis had already been heard on Prestige fronting a quartet including John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, yet the consistency and innovation that marks his first Columbia sessions placed the resulting albums into a class by themselves.
Allowing for a better look into Davis’ expansion of material, sessions for both the ’Round About Midnight and Milestones albums yielded many alternate takes, all of which have been included here. Sound quality, particularly the new stereo version of Milestones, has been improved greatly and the fine vinyl pressings yield a warm analog luster that is highly alluring. As an added bonus, studio banter and a discussion between Miles and Leonard Bernstein accompany several takes of “Sweet Sue, Just You,” the master only appearing on the long unavailable Bernstein LP, What is Jazz?
While it’s been pretty easy up to this point to place items with their respective albums, a date from May of 1958 yielded the cuts “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Fran-Dance (two takes),” “Stella By Starlight,” and “Love For Sale.” Easy enough, but then the tracks ended up on the hard-to-find Jazz Track LP, only to then be scattered on various packages and reissues over the years. Fortunately, this set collects the cuts and groups them together appropriately. It should also be noted that a shift in personnel at this point has brought a subtle but noticeable change in sound and attitude. Pianist Bill Evans and drummer Jimmy Cobb would provide a more reserved methodology when compared to Wynton Kelly’s blues-based leanings and Philly Joe Jones’ flamboyant displays.
Also allusive over the years due to piecemeal issues, two live recordings are up next- six performances done at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and another four captured in September of the same year at New York’s Plaza Hotel. While nothing all that radical in comparison with the studio recordings happens during either sets, there is a solidification of Davis’ late ‘50s approach. Technically, the Plaza tracks are a bit rough, but that is merely a minor grievance.
Almost a year would pass between Davis’ studio sessions in May of 1958 and two dates in March and April of ’59 which would be combined to form a cornerstone of any jazz record collection, Kind of Blue. The most recent mastering job that yielded the current compact disc version is heard here, albeit in analog form. Also included is a previously unissued false start of “Freddie Freeloader” and a bit more of Davis’ studio comments. The final two tracks included are takes of “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Teo,” both of which appeared on the album “Someday My Prince Will Come,” although these are the only tracks with Coltrane to appear on that original album.
Volumes have been written about the timeless music contained within this boxed set. It has not been my purpose to go into session-by-session commentary, but to provide the details about this particular assemblage. It goes without saying that this is Miles at the peak of performance and clearly this material belongs in any comprehensive collection. As for Coltrane, this proves to be a transition period for him, with the lessons learned being applied to his subsequent work as a leader for Atlantic and then Impulse. Along with nine audiophile vinyl records, this set includes a 24-page booklet with commentary by producer George Avakian and Bob Blumenthal and a wealth of photos from the original sessions and elsewhere.
Record One - Side A:Two Bass Hit (alternate take), Two Bass Hit, Ah-Leu-Cha (alternate take), Ah-Leu-Cha, Ah-Leu-Cha (take 5)
Record One - Side B:Little Melonae, Budo (alternate take), Budo, Dear Old Stockholm
Record Two - Side A:Bye Bye Blackbird (alternate take), Bye Bye Blackbird, Tadd's Delight, Tadd's Deli(alternate take)
Record Two - Side B:Dear Old Stockholm (alternate take), All Of You (alternate take), All Of You
Record Three - Side A:Sweet Sue, Just You (first version), Sweet Sue, Just You (false start with discussion by Leonard Bernstein & Miles Davis), Sweet Sue, Just You (alternate take), Sweet Sue, Just You, Miles Davis comments, 'Round Midnight, Two Bass Hit (alternate take)
Record Three - Side B:Two Bass Hit, Billy Boy, Straight No Chaser (alternate take)
Record Four - Side A:Straight No Chaser, Milestones (alternate take), Milestones
Record Four - Side B:Sid's Ahead, Little Melonae
Record Five - Side A:Dr. Jackle, On Green Dolphin Street, Fran-Dance (alternate take)
Record Five - Side B:Fran-Dance, Stella By Starlight, Love For Sale
Record Six - Side A:Freddie Freeloader (false start), Freddie Freeloader, So What
Record Six - Side B:Blue In Green, Flamenco Sketches (alternate take), Miles Davis comments
Record Seven - Side A:Flamenco Sketches, All Blues
Record Seven - Side B:Someday My Prince Will Come, Teo
Record Eight - Side A:Introduction by Willis Connover, Ah-Leu-Cha, Straight No Chaser, Fran-Dance
Record Eight - Side B:Two Bass Hit, Bye Bye Blackbird, The Theme
Record Nine - Side A:If I Were A Bell, Oleo
Record Nine - Side B:My Funny Valentine, Straight No Chaser
Collective Miles Davis (trumpet); John Coltrane, Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone); Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone); Red Garland, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb (drums)
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.