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Reviewers: Glyn Pursglove, Jonathan Woolf

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Miles Davis

Three Classic Albums Plus

AVID JAZZ AMSC1348

 

CD1
1-6: Round About Midnight
1.‘Round Midnight
2. Ah-Leu-Cha
3. All Of You
4. Bye Bye Blackbird
5. Tadd’s Delight
6. Dear Old Stockholm

Miles Davis (tpt), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass),

‘Philly Joe’ Jones (drums)

Rec. October 1955-September 1956.
7-11: Milestones
7. Dr. Jekyll
8. Sid’s Ahead
9. Two Bass Hit
10. Milestones
11. Billy Boy
[76:23]


CD2
Milestones

1Straight No Chaser

Miles Davis (tpt), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (alto sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), ‘Philly Joe’ Jones (drums)

Rec. February-March 1958.
2-6: Kind Of Blue
2. So What
3. Freddie Freeloader
4. Blue In Green
5. All Blues
6. Flamenco Sketches

Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (alto sax except track 4), Bill Evans (piano, except track 3), Wynton Kelly (track 3 only), Paul Chambers (bass),

‘Philly Joe’ Jones (drums)

Rec. March-April 1959.

7. So What (Bonus Track from In Person, Saturday Night At The Blackhawk Vol 2)

Miles Davis (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano) Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums)

Rec. Blackhawk Restaurant, San Francisco, April 22, 1961.
8. So What (Bonus Track from At Carnegie Hall)

Miles Davis Quintet-Miles Davis (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano) Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums) with 21 piece orchestra. Gil Evans (arr., cond.).

Rec. Carnegie Hall, New York, May 19, 1961.

[80:47]

By any reckoning this is ‘classic’ jazz! Kind of Blue has often been said to be the all-time best-seller amongst jazz recordings. It is the one jazz recording which, as I know from experience, often turns up in the collections of people who otherwise profess to have no interest in jazz. Very few jazz albums ever have a whole book devoted to them.Kind of Blue has had at least two: Ashley Kahn’s ‘Kind of Blue’: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece (2001) and Richard Williams’s The Blue Moment: Miles Davis ‘The Kind of Blue’ and the Remaking of Modern Music (2010). It isn’t easy to explain why Kind of Blue should have been so much more successful than so many other fine records, and I won’t bore the reader by attempting such an explanation here. Indeed, its seemingly universal popularity tempts one to be cynical and call it overrated. But that would be mere perversity. It really does contain some superb music-making and, in all honesty, it would be hard to dispute what Alun Morgan wrote (in Jazz on Record, 1968) almost ten years after it was recorded, when he called it “one of the most significant jazz records of the post-war years”. Another sixty-odd years on and it still sounds fine. It has been reissued many times, in many forms, and I suspect that everyone interested enough to read these pages will already possess a copy of the album. The use of modal themes, inviting the soloists to improvise on a series of scales rather than a sequence of chords gave them more freedom – not necessarily a recipe for success, save that in addition to himself, Davis had John Coltrane and Bill Evans on hand – very different musicians, but both able to understand and exploit the offered possibilities. At the same time, and relatedly, Davis was bringing to perfection

a new way of using the rhythm section, developed in his music from the mid 1950s onwards. This was especially true of the way bass and drums were used; the bassist was encouraged (required?) not merely to be a fulcrum of rhythm and harmony, but to create lines of his own – Paul Chambers soon became the master of this; drummer Philly Joe Jones doubtless needed very little ‘encouragement’ to complement what Chambers was doing by creating cross rhythms in dialogue with soloists, pianist and bassist.

The earliest album here, Round About Midnight, already features Chambers and Jones. At times pianist Red Garland sounds a little uneasy with their work, but for the most part things work well together. While Davis’s work is largely spare and relatively undemonstrative, Coltrane’s is exceedingly busy and sometimes quite fierce. The differences create a tension which proves creative. It would be easier to pick holes (small holes, at least) in Round About Midnight than in Kind of Blue. But it would still effectively be pointless. This is another excellent album, full of variations on an ambiguously nocturnal mood and of brilliant solos.

The modal approach is more evident on Milestones. Here the addition of Julian Adderley has turned the quintet of Round About Midnight into a sextet. Adderley doesn’t always sound comfortable in this context – least so on ‘Sid’s Ahead’. But both Davis and Coltrane, in their different ways, are imperious throughout, seeming to revel in the harmonic and rhythmic challenges offered by much of the material. Milestones may not quite be the equal of Kind of Blue, but the difference in achievement is not great.

Of the two bonus tracks which complete this set, I take greatest pleasure in the version of ‘So What’ from Saturday Night at the Blackhawk. The two albums recorded at the Blackhawk in San Francisco have never achieved anything like the popularity of Kind of Blue or even Milestones, but they contain some interesting music. I wouldn’t though suggest that ‘So What’ was one of the very best tracks from the two albums. Hank Mobley – perennially underrated – is a personal favourite amongst tenor players; working with Davis, however, didn’t often bring out his very best. Much as I like Mobley I have to admit that when he takes his solo here, after Davis, there is, although what Mobley does has its attractive subtleties, a considerable drop in ‘electricity’. Wynton Kelly’s solo seems, in turn, rather simplistic after those by trumpet and tenor. The album closes with its third version of ‘So What’, this time from Davis’s Carnegie Hall concert of May 1961. Davis himself plays with great fire in the opening solo, while Mobley is by means on top form and doesn’t seem able to sustain or develop such good ideas as he has. It has to be said that even big band the arrangement, by the great Gil Evans, adds little to what the basic quintet does. But my reservations about the last track are unimportant in the face of the glorious music to be heard onRound About Midnight, Milestones and Kind of Blue. This is a pair of CDs which should have a central place in any jazz collection.

Glyn Pursglove


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