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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Miles Davis: Year-Long Celebration of Five Decades and Many Miles

Miles Davis: Year-Long Celebration of Five Decades and Many Miles
Miles Davis: Year-Long Celebration of Five Decades and Many Miles
Posted: 2005-07-18

By Chris M. Slawecki
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On October 27, 1955, Miles Davis signed with Columbia Records, where the mercurial trumpeter, composer, bandleader and conceptualist remained through most of his career. After 1955, Davis recorded and released nearly all of his greatest music through Columbia. Now part of Sony / Legacy, the label has embarked on a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of that contract signing by releasing a succession of new and newly-remastered titles throughout 2005.

The series began this past January with three releases: The remastered single-CD version of My Funny Valentine, a set of ballads aflame with Davis’ whispered intensity; the Kind of Blue DualDisc, which combines an audio CD of his classic 1958 album (plus the only available studio alternate take) with a DVD that presents the album in 5.1 Surround Sound plus a 25-minute documentary on the making of the album; and the remastered single-CD version of A Tribute to Jack Johnson issued to coincide with Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

It is worth mentioning that Davis himself would have most likely hated these reissues as “been there, done that.” Most likely? Almost definitely! Still, they provide valuable mileposts for devotees and the curious who may be traveling these Miles for the first time.


'Round About Midnight: Legacy Edition
Seven Steps to Heaven
'Four’ & More Recorded Live in Concert
Miles Davis in Europe
Miles in Tokyo
Miles in Berlin
The Best of Seven Steps
The Cellar Door Sessions 1970

New Beginnings

‘Round About Midnight: Legacy Edition (1955-56)
With John Coltrane and Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Gerry Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Red Garland and Thelonious Monk, piano; Paul Chambers and Percy Heath, bass; Philly Joe Jones and Connie Kay, drums.

The series’ most recent installment is a deluxe two-CD version of Davis’ first studio album for Columbia at the helm of his first great quintet with Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Jones.

The beauty and genius of Davis’ balladry on ‘Round About Midnight is justifiably legend. “His playing is characterized by both the nervous, jagged lines of the bop school,” wrote producer George Avakian for its original liner notes, “and the pensive relaxation of the cool period which followed.” It opens with his profound meditation on the Thelonious Monk composition that inspired its title, and its brilliance continues with his muted playing through two pop selections, “All of You” and especially the stark opening to “Bye Bye Blackbird,” where he sounds like a man sad and utterly alone.

Though this reissue provides four new, unreleased studio takes on disc one, its true bonus harvest comes from a previously unreleased 1956 concert by this band—now the first commercially available live performance by the first great Miles Davis quintet—on disc two.

It’s a performance that looks both forward and back, played with so much energy! Its centerpiece is an early recording of the elegant, celebrated “Walkin’” blues, a staple of Davis’ repertoire into the next decade, illuminated with probing, burning explorations from Coltrane, Garland and Chambers. But it also includes rare examples of Davis revisiting with ‘Trane, a more modern player, the bebop style that the leader was resolutely leaving behind: The rhythm section scrambles the opening “Max is Making Wax”; later, the band whipsaws and bounces through “Woody N’You” and “Salt Peanuts,” featuring Davis’ space-walk along Dizzy Gillespie’s upper trumpet stratosphere and hard-rocking beatdowns from Jones. Davis always killed at least one ballad in concert; in this case, the quiet, direct “It Never Entered My Mind,” a remembrance haunted by gorgeous piano and trumpet.

This new concert is prefixed by Davis’ famous performance of “‘Round Midnight” with Monk at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival: Sitting in with Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims from the Mulligan Sextet, bassist Percy Heath and Connie Kay (the Modern Jazz Quartet rhythm section), and pianist Monk, his opening solo to “‘Round Midnight” at Newport sounds as good as anything that Davis ever played. Ever played. It was the strength of this performance that compelled Avakian, who was attending the festival and served on Columbia staff, to sign Davis to his Columbia contract.

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