Miles to Go
New Miles Davis/John Coltrane box set showcases two jazz giants
By Greg Cahill
IT'S KIND OF A CURSE, this addictive urge to own every available recorded track of a favorite artist. So the newly released Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings (Columbia/Legacy) is a six-CD, 58-track shot in the arm that will set you back $100 and deliver hours of stimulating sounds by a super sextet that remains legendary in the annals of modern music.
The whole package--replete with a 116-page booklet, featuring dozens of previously unpublished photos, a session analysis, and reflective essays--is organized in a hardbound portfolio and encased in a heavy red steel box.
Caveat emptor: Don't be lured by that bright-yellow sticker that promises 18 previously unreleased tracks, unless you really need a fix that includes five versions of "Two Bass Hit," four versions of "Ah-Leu-Cha" (including three stacked together on a single disc), and four consecutive renderings of "Sweet Sue, Just You."
That said, this collection of spectacular tracks--recorded between October 1955 and March 1961--represents one of the most fertile periods in the long and illustrious career of trumpeter Miles Davis. And it's an eloquent union of two remarkable jazz giants. Already written off by music critics as a relic of the bop era, Davis reinvented himself and jazz after assembling this sterling rotating lineup that at various times featured tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Hank Mobley; alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly; pianists Bill Evans, Red Garland, and Wynton Kelley; bassist Paul Chambers; and drummers Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb.
The recordings--illumined for eternity with a cool blue flame fed by the creative interplay of bold musical ideas--were featured on such LPs as 'Round about Midnight, Milestones, and Someday My Prince Will Come. But the real gem is 1959's Kind of Blue, the modal masterpiece that changed jazz forever and remains an essential recording. From the undeniable cool of "Freddie Freeloader" to the pastoral calm of "Blue in Green," it's easy to see why this material established the Davis/Coltrane unit as the premier jazz group of the decade.
In that regard, the completist approach is welcome. But unfortunately, there is little here to shed new light on those landmark sessions. For instance, the alternate take of "Flamenco Sketches"--which resonates with pianist Bill Evans' meditative 1958 signature song "Peace Piece"--is available on the expanded edition of Kind of Blue, released three years ago.
For the casual fan, the bulk of this material can be purchased at less than half the total cost of this ambitious set. For cursed completists, well, you've just gotta own it, dontcha?
From the May 11-17, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.