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Miles Davis: The Essential Miles Davis

Todd S. Jenkins By

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There can't be too many musical tasks as daunting as trying to trim Miles Davis' prodigious output down into two discs worth of "essentials". No matter how much time and thought went into this amazing package, arguments are sure to ensue for years to come. That said, reissue producers Michael Cuscuna and Bob Belden have done a most commendable job of distilling Miles' essence. From his 1945 sessions with Charlie Parker through his 1986 smash hit Tutu, all the major phases of Davis' multifaceted career are covered here.

The chronological order of this set offers an important look at Davis' full artistic development. In '45 Miles was an uncertain teenager, his solo on "Now's The Time" plodding at a thoughtful snail's pace compared to Bird's prior flurry. A little over three years later, he was still calculating but more self-assured as he formulated an "anti-bop" in the form of cool jazz. Come 1953, he and Parker were back to bop, but with a new, listener-friendly sensibility that characterized his playing for the next several years. And so it goes, through the timeless Gil Evans big-band dates ( Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain ), modal jazz (the huge best-seller Kind Of Blue ), chord substitutions with Coltrane, and the eventual movement away from standard forms with the "classic quintet" with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams.

Thankfully, the compilers avoided the few clear dogs in Davis' discography, particularly his uneven comeback, The Man With The Horn, and his horrendous swansong, Doo-Bop. Miles' post-1970 recordings tended to be of a piece, and a few selections may have been chosen more for track length than their timelessness. "Little Church" is almost nerve-grating, with Hermeto Pascoal's whistling, Keith Jarrett's wheezy organ, and Davis' groaning muted trumpet abrading each other like rocks in a waterfall. Also, "Portia" seems a bit light-tempered to end such a retrospective. Then again, this set is largely about Miles' experimental nature, his frequent willingness to try new things and move on if they failed. By and large this set is outstanding, and as good an overview of Miles' opus as could ever be assembled. Essential indeed.


Track Listing: Now's the Time; Jeru; Compulsion; Tempus Fugit; Walkin'; 'Round Midnight; Bye Bye Blackbird; New Rhumba; Generique; Summertime; So What; The Pan Piper; Someday My Prince Will Come; My Funny Valentine; E.S.P.; Nefertiti; Petits Machins (Little Stuff); Miles Runs the Voodoo Down; Little Church; Black Satin; Jean Pierre; Time After Time; Portia.

Personnel: Miles Davis- trumpet, organ on "Jean Pierre;" Charlie Parker- alto saxophone, tenor saxophone on "Compulsion;" Lee Konitz, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley- alto saxophone; Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Heath, Lucky Thompson, Barney Wilen, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, John Coltrane- tenor saxophone; Wayne Shorter- tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Carlos Garnett, Bill Evans- soprano saxophone; Gerry Mulligan- baritone saxophone; Danny Bank- alto flute, bass clarinet; Bennie Maupin- bass clarinet; Sid Cooper- clarinet; Al Block, Harold Feldman- flute; Romeo Penque- oboe; Jack Knitzer- bassoon; Jerome Richardson, Romeo Penque- flute, alto flute, clarinet; Ernie Royal, Bernie Glow, Louis Mucci, Taft Jordan, Johnny Carisi, Johnny Coles- trumpet; Kai Winding, J.J. Johnson, Frank Rehak, Jimmy Cleveland, Joe Bennett, Dick Hixon- trombone; Tom Mitchell- bass trombone; Junior Collins, Willie Ruff, Jimmy Buffington, Julius Watkins, Joe Singer, Tony Miranda, Gunther Schuller- French horn; Bill Barber- tuba; Janet Putnam- harp; Khalil Balakrishna- electric sitar; John McLaughlin, Reggie Lucas, Mike Stern, John Scofield- electric guitar; Dizzy Gillespie, Al Haig, Walter Bishop, Gil Coggins, Horace Silver, Rene Urtreger, Bill Evans, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly- piano; Herbie Hancock- piano, electric piano; Chick Corea, Larry Young- electric piano; Keith Jarrett- organ; Cedric Lawson, Robert Irving III- keyboard; Curley Russell, Joe Shulman, Percy Heath, Pierre Michelot, Paul Chambers- bass; Dave Holland, Ron Carter- bass, electric bass; Harvey Brooks, Darryl Jones- electric bass; Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Art Taylor, Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Al Foster- drums; Don Alias- drums, congas; Badal Roy- tabla; Airto Moreira, Elvin Jones, Jose Mangual, Lennie White, Jumma Santos, Paulinho Da Costa, James "Mtume" Foreman, Mino Cinelu, Steve Thornton- percussion; Hermeto Pascoal- whistling; Marcus Miller- synth, keyboards, electric bass, soprano saxophone, sampling.

Title: The Essential Miles Davis | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Columbia Records


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