All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 (Box Set) By Miles Davis With John Coltrane

February 27, 2015

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Miles Davis, (1926-1991), and John Coltrane, (1926-1967), were two giants of American music who changed and influenced the course of American jazz during the second half of the twentieth century.

Coltrane was an on again – off again member of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1955-1960. It was not always a harmonious union as they had very different approaches to music. When you listen to their solos within the context of the quintet, it is two unique, if not cohesive, statements being made next to each other. Coltrane was always looking inward for inspiration, while Davis was willing to expand outward wherever his imagination would take him. Despite their differences, everything worked and their time together resulted in some of the most exciting jazz of the era.

Their last hurrah together was a twenty date European tour in the spring of 1960. Many of the concerts were broadcast over a number of national radio networks, plus a few were privately recorded. A selection of tracks from the tour has now been released as a four-CD box set titled All Of You: The Last Tour 1960.

The sound runs the gamut from very average to good, so be prepared for an up and down experience. Sometimes the issues are as simple as microphone placement as certain instruments disappear from time to time. The good news is Davis’s and Coltrane’s solos are the clearest parts.

The box set draws from seven different dates from five countries. Everything is wisely presented chronologically so the listener can follow the bands development. This is very clear with two performances of “So What” recorded at different shows on the same date where the second is more energetic than the first. It then appears a third time where Davis takes it all into a new register.

The April 8th concert from Zurich has the best overall sound. “If I Were A Bell” is filled with ringing and inspired solos. The version of “So What” finds Coltrane moving beyond the traditional norms of the past.

When the tour ended, Coltrane would embark on his own solo career and never play with Davis again. What is left behind is this last testament of their time together.

All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 is not for the beginner. It is a set for someone who has a basic knowledge of their work individually and together. It’s fragmented nature make it a less than perfect release but there are flashes of genius, which make it a worthwhile listening experience, especially for the jazz aficionado.

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Miles At The Fillmore (Box Set) by Miles Davis

June 18, 2014

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Shortly after releasing Bitches Brew, Miles Davis and his band began a four night stand at the Fillmore East on June 17, 1970. Bitches Brew had signified a new direction for his career. Lengthy solos were being replaced by an ensemble sound as he was taking his cues from the rock and funk music of the day. While he was still grounded in jazz, his new fusion style and sound began attracting rock fans.

His backing band at the Fillmore was one of the best of his career. Sax player Steve Grossman, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette, percussionist/vocalist Airto Moreira, pianist Chick Correa, and organist Keith Jarrett were some of the best jazz musicians available and formed a tight and talented unit. Jarrett and Correa would carry and change the melody while Dejohnette and Holland provided a foundation.  This allowed Davis and Grossman to weave in their sounds. They would constantly change direction and add new textures to the performances.

Back in the days of vinyl, a two disc set was released. It consisted of four medleys of material, one to each side. Remarkably the rest of the music sat in the vaults until now.

Miles At The Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Volume 3 is a four CD box set that contains all four complete concerts. It all adds up to over 100 minutes of unreleased music. Also included as bonus tracks are three performances from their April 11, 1970, concert at The Fillmore West, which means another 35 minutes of unreleased material. The band is the same except Keith Jarrett was not present. The three songs, “Paraphernalia,” “Footprints,” and a thunderous rendition of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” all clock in at over ten minutes and were not performed at any of the Fillmore East concerts.

The sound has been remastered from the original tapes. Both Fillmore’s had excellent recording equipment for the day and modern technology has created a pristine sound. Each musician is distinct, which increases the listening experience. A 32-page booklet not only gives a history of the concerts but provides a context for the music in so far as the era and Davis’ career are concerned. They also made the wise decision to place each night of music on its own disc. This enhances each individual concert experience.

Songs such as “Directions,” “The Mask,” “It’s About Time,” and “Bitches Brew” appear on all four discs. It is interesting to compare the performances and note not only the obvious but subtle changes as well.

The second performance of June 18 contains a surprise. Davis rarely performed an encore but here they played a ten minute “Spanish Key” from Bitches Brew. It was the only time the song was performed during his four night stay.

Miles At The Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Volume 3 finally resurrects one of the historic series of concerts in American music history. While they are emblematic of a certain period in the career of Miles Davis, they hold up well 44 years later. A must listen for any fan of Davis or jazz music.


The Definitive Miles Davis On Prestige by Miles Davis

April 6, 2011

When one thinks about 20th century jazz music in The United States, one of the first names that comes to mind is Miles Davis. He is recognized as one of the most innovative, creative, and influential musicians in jazz history. His albums sold tens of millions of copies and continue to be commercially successful 20 years after his death.

As a young teenager his mother wanted him to be a pianist, while his father gave him a trombone. Sometimes a seemingly insignificant family decision changes the course of modern music history.

He dropped out of the Juilliard School of Music to play in the clubs of New York City with some of the leading jazz artists of the day. By 1946 he was leading his own group, while also acting as a supporting musician for other artists.

He made the decision to sign with the Prestige label during 1951 and would remain with them for nearly a decade as the leader of various groups. His releases for the label would establish him as one of jazz music’s leading musicians and commercial successes. He would be the leading practitioner of the hard bop school of jazz. He slowed down the tempo and gave his recordings a harder beat, while remaining in contact with the song’s melody. While he would never be considered a rhythm and blues artist, during this period of his life he moved in that direction.

The Concord Music Group has now gathered 24 of his recordings for the Prestige label and released them as a part of their Definitive Series. The Definitive Miles Davis On Prestige concentrates on his 1951-1956 period, when he pushed and expanded the boundaries of jazz music. Joining him are some of the legendary musicians of jazz including Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Milt Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, and Horace Silver.

Disc one travels back to the origins of his sound. “Morpheus” was the first track on his debut album. It catches him at the time when his approach was new and experimental. “Dig” was based on the chord progression of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and was a tightly structured song that became the title of his first album. “Compulsion” featured the dual alto tenor saxophones of Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker. It is made historic by virtue of the fact that it was the last time Parker and Davis would play together.

By 1954, Davis had kicked his drug addictions and completed the development of his hard bop sound. “Four” and “Solar” are both classics of this type of jazz. “Walkin’” was a thirteen minute extravaganza of sound and notes, which would look ahead to future experimentation. The 11 minute “Bags’ Groove” was a Milt Jackson composition and Davis and Thelonious Monk contribute wonderful solos.

Disc two picks up during 1955, and by this time Davis had developed his signature trumpet sound, which he would retain for the rest of his career. He had an arrangement with the Prestige and Columbia labels that would enable him to record for both, but the Columbia material would not be released until his contract with Prestige was fulfilled.

He would begin to interpret the Great American Songbook in ways the writers of the songs could not have originally imagined. “Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” “If I Were A Bell,” “I Could Write A Book,” and “My Funny Valentine” all proved to be vehicles for him to not only interpret, but help change the course of music itself.

The Definitive Series has always featured a pristine sound and this release is no exception. An informative booklet with a nice biography of this period of his career, plus comments about the music, is also included.

The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige is a nice overview of an important time in the career of Miles Davis. The music remains essential for any fan of Davis or American jazz.

Article first published as Music Review: Miles Davis – The Definitive Miles Davis On Prestige on Blogcritics.


Dig by Miles Davis featuring Sonny Rollins

November 19, 2010

There has been over 200 studio, live, and compilation albums by Miles Davis, 1926-1991, and that is a lot of music.

The Concord Music Group has been reissuing classic jazz releases through their Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. Miles Davis’ fourth studio release, Dig, has been selected as one of the newest entries in the series.

Dig was first released during 1951 as a ten inch vinyl LP, as mainly classical records were issued in the twelve inch format. The original release contained five tracks but when it was first reissued as a twelve inch LP, two more were added to fill out the album. While this new CD release lists two bonus tracks, they were part of the early reissue.

This was a transition album for Davis. Even at this early point in his career he had already exerted a large influence by being one of the first proponents of the cool jazz school. He began to move away from that sound that was intricate and composed yet left some room for improvisation. He was now moving toward a fifties Be-Bop style.

He surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians in jazz history. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, alto sax player Jackie McLean, pianist Walter Bishop, bassist Tommy Potter, and drummer Art Blakely all supported the legendary jazz trumpeter.

The real bonus is the enclosed essay by Ira Gitler who wrote the original liner notes for the 1951 release which are also included.

The title track was one of the Davis’ major compositions and performances of his early career. It introduced a new style of jazz music and included solos by Rollins, McLean, and two by Davis. “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” was written by Howard Arlen of “Over The Rainbow” fame. The Nat King Cole Trio recorded the song during the forties and here it completes the movement from The Great American Songbook to classic jazz as Davis’ improvisational lines combine with Rollins melodies.

“Denial” is probably the weakest song if there was one. The solos are excellent in their own right but do not flow into each other. “Bluing” has the first solos by pianist Bishop plus at almost ten minutes has plenty of room for Rollins and Davis as well. “Out Of The Blue” closed the original album with Davis introducing the theme for the others to follow before bringing it to a conclusion.

The final two tracks fit the album well. “My Old Flame” is another old standard by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston that Charlie Parker recorded during 1947. Davis uses his interpretation as a launch point and adds some creative improvisations along the way. “Conception” was a George Shearing composition that Davis added a number of interludes at various points.

Many times Dig is forgotten in the vast Miles Davis catalogue. It was an important album both for Davis and for jazz as well as it opened up new possibilities that would be explored by the generation of artists that would follow.

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Article first published as Music Review: Miles Davis featuring Sonny Rollins – Dig on Blogcritics.