'Round About Midnight / Milestones /
Miles Davis at Newport 1958 / Jazz at the Plaza /
The Best of Miles Davis & John Coltrane (1955-1961)
(Columbia / Legacy)

Had he lived, Miles Davis would have celebrated his 75th birthday on May 26th of this year. In honor of this milestone (pun intended), Columbia/Legacy has a plethora of new releases in the stores, and still more to come. Back in April, they reissued 'Round About Midnight, Milestones, Miles Davis at Newport 1958, Jazz at the Plaza, and the new compilation, The Best of Miles Davis/John Coltrane 1955-1961. In addition, May 1st saw the release of The Essential Miles Davis--the first compilation to cover Miles' entire career. I'll cover the recently reissued titles first, and then tell you about what's to come in the next few months.

MILES DAVIS: 'Round About Midnight (Columbia / Legacy)'Round About Midnight was Miles' first full-length release for Columbia, and one of the most beautiful of his career. Widely considered to be among the best groups in the history of jazz, the legendary quintet (which changed slightly over time) included John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on the drums. In addition to the six tracks that were on the original release, the newly remastered version includes four bonus tracks--Jackie McLean's exploratory "Little Melonae," an updated version of "Budo" (both from the deleted album, Miles and Coltrane), an alternate version of "Two Bass Hit," and the rarity, "Sweet Sue, Just You."

MILES DAVIS: Milestones (Columbia / Legacy)My personal favorite of the new reissues is Milestones. Aside from the Miles/Coltrane box released last year, this marks the first time that this material has appeared in true stereo in over four decades. Prior to that, it was only available in mono or electronically re-channeled stereo. The title cut also marked the first time that Miles had written in the modal style that would be immortalized on the Kind of Blue album. Expanding the group to a sextet was one of the giants of alto sax, Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley. Adderley's style of playing complemented Coltrane's perfectly--at times requiring you to really listen closely to tell who's playing what. Both players had incredible range on their instruments. Milestones includes three bonus tracks--alternate versions of "Two Bass Hit," "Milestones" which is actually superior to the 'original'), and Monk's "Straight, No Chaser."

MILES DAVIS: Miles Davis At Newport 1958 (Columbia / Legacy)While most of this music on Miles Davis at Newport 1958 has appeared on either the Miles and Monk At Newport compilation or the Newport Jazz Festival Live album, this is the first time that the material has been presented in its entirety. The personnel in the sextet had changed slightly by this time. Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones were replaced by revolutionary pianist Bill Evans and newcomer Jimmy Cobb on drums. Especially notable in this performance was the way Coltrane's abilities had progressed. But even though the group was bursting with musical inspiration and fresh ideas, Miles was still the undisputed heart and soul of the band. Several of the tracks performed here came from 'Round About Midnight and Milestones; but in the live setting, the music soars and the interaction between the artists is remarkable. Unlike Jazz at The Plaza, recorded just two months later, this album was intended for commercial release and the sound quality is much better as well.

MILES DAVIS: Jazz at The Plaza (Columbia / Legacy)Jazz at the Plaza was recorded at a press party at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, but not released until 1973 (it was never available before on CD). The group only played four songs, but the recording is far from flawless. Miles was playing off-mike at the beginning of "If I Were a Bell," and in some spots the crowd noise (talking, glasses clinking together, etc) is almost louder than the music. But to these ears, this just adds to the ambience of the recording, effectively creating the sense of 'being there.' And although the sextet was not playing at their best, the interaction between Miles, Coltrane, and Cannonball remained creative and inspired. Coltrane, in particular, takes this material to new heights. As I mentioned earlier, the sound quality is definitely not great; but it's better than any previous version and it conveys the feeling and excitement of a live performance.

MILES DAVIS: The Best of Miles Davis / John Coltrane (1955-1961) (Columbia / Legacy)The Best of Miles Davis / John Coltrane (1955-1961) takes a chronological look back at some of the best-loved tracks from the box set. In addition to the material on the albums above, this CD also brings in "So What" and "Blue in Green" from Miles' jazz masterpiece, Kind of Blue, and the title track from the 1961 album, "Someday My Prince Will Come," which featured one of the most lyrical solos of Trane's career. Sure, there are loads of tracks that could've been here--"Stella by Starlight" and "On Green Dolphin Street" quickly come to mind. But it's hard to dispute the tracks that are on the CD. Even after all these years, Miles & Coltrane remain one of the most powerful and important pairings in jazz history.

The sound quality on all of the reissues (except Jazz at the Plaza) is superb, and now it's even better than that of the box set (albeit only slightly), thanks to the DSD processing used on the individual titles. In addition to the beautiful remastering job, all of the CDs feature new liner notes by Grammy-winner Bob Blumenthal.

So what's to come? Aside from the recently released Essential collection, Columbia/Legacy plans to release Live at The Fillmore East - March 7, 1970: It's About That Time, a previously unreleased double-CD of scorching fusion from the now-legendary band. Several of the songs would later appear on the Bitches Brew album. On this particular date, the band was opening for The Steve Miller Blues Band and Neil Young and Crazy Horse. As I'm sitting here listening to an advance copy of the album, I can't help wondering what the audience must have thought of this music. The show was about a month before the release of Bitches Brew, which in itself, was unlike anything that had ever been heard before. It was a crucial period in time for Miles, as he was about to change the face of jazz once again. Audio purists will be disappointed in the sound on this double disc; but for many fans, this will be the great, lost Miles album. It also marks the final appearance of saxophonist Wayne Shorter in the group. Live at the Fillmore East is currently scheduled for release on July 17th.

On Sept. 11th, Sony is currently scheduled to release the latest in the series of Miles box sets (and possibly the best so far)--The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions. The box only covers six months of recordings, but it represents dramatic musical growth, as well as documenting the end of the Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams quintet and the beginning of the electric era. The songs that made up the original In a Silent Way album are here in their complete form, as well as the edited versions that appeared on the album. In addition to the cuts that were previously available on Water Babies, Circle in the Round, and Directions (all of which are slowly being rendered obsolete by the box sets), there is almost an hour of previously unreleased music as well. It's mind-boggling to think that this music sat in the vault for all these years. The best way I can describe this material in the box set is--all killer, no filler. This may have been a transitional period for Miles, but the music he created during this time was some of the best of his career. The sound quality on the IASW box is absolutely stunning--much better than what's currently available. Ahhh, yes… There's never been a better time to be a Miles fan.

© 2001 Steve Marshall