Miles Davis | The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions

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Davis (t), John Coltrane (ts), Red Garland, Bill Evans (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Philly Joe Jones (d). Rec. 1955-58 Miles Davis | The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions
This Universal stab at Prestige’s glorious Miles Davis/Coltrane Quintet legacy hits the proverbial nail on the head. Yes, it’s run chronologically and yes, every scrap of music is preserved, but Prestige’s Bob Weinstock didn’t believe in rehearsals or in retaining alternative takes (a waste of valuable recording tape space), so we don’t get five takes of ‘Four’ before moving on to the next selection. We get the flow of the sessions as they unfolded. Which is what Fantasy did, of course, when they owned this stuff, but for years it was only available in the eight-CD Miles set, followed later by a four-CD pull-together of the original LPs nowhere near as elaborate as this one.

Universal have managed to get all the studio material onto three CDs, and licensed some radio air shots for a fourth disc of material that has been floating around on vinyl and CD collectables for decades. Thus air shots from a November 1955 Steve Allen TV show, a December 1956 radio shot from the Blue Note in Philadelphia and four extracts from a May 1958 Café Bohemia broadcast (with Bill Evans on piano) fill up disc four. Of the three location recordings, the last is in by far the best audio, although Miles plays superbly throughout. Steve Allen’s 1955 TV patter has to be heard to be believed.

But back to the studio (Van Gelder’s old Hackensack place). As opposed to the quintet recordings made for Columbia during the same period, where a huge amount of effort and concentration went into getting things right over a considerable period of time, these are spontaneous, relaxed and the nearest we could ever now get to knowing what this group sounded like every night, front table, nightclub set, the sound spot-on, the interaction a quick fire of casual references and incidental musical nudges as the perfect opposites, economical Miles and abrasive, searching Coltrane, gradually worked the territory out between them while the rhythm section gave exemplary swinging support. That rhythm section, overtly modelled on Ahmad Jamal’s but with Philly Joe’s kick driving things along, is perhaps still underappreciated compared with later Davis aggregations, but the lightness of touch combines so beautifully with the drive that you hardly notice lift-off. Yet it happens on every tune.

The other restriction lifted here is that of compiling album running orders or avoiding rows with other record companies. Hence the Prestige version of ‘Round Midnight’ appears here in recording order instead of being held back for release on a separate LP of Miles playing with Monk and Milt Jackson, so as not to upset Columbia. It fits nicely at the top of disc three. For many years now, this material has tended to languish in the shade of the Columbia recordings, but any proper look at Miles’ career cannot afford to ignore the many delights this material has to offer, when his small-group blueprint was being worked out and refined as an unwanted record company contract was being worked out in Hackensack. Meanwhile, Coltrane goes from being an awkward Gordon and Stitt disciple in 1955 to a fully-fledged phenomenon less than a year later. It happened that fast while Miles kept his own playing standards resolutely high, standing next to his blossoming sideman.

Keith Shadwick