Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Boxing Miles

Miles Davis, 1986*
Jazz legend Miles Davis passed away 25 years ago today at age 65. On September 28, 1991, less than eight weeks after historic concerts in Montreux, Switzerland and Paris in which he revisited classic material, he died in a southern California hospital of pneumonia and heart failure. In addition to being a trumpeter, bandleader and style shaper, he had a strong interest in boxing - and worked out in the ring to keep fit.It hardly seems possible he’s been gone a quarter century. 

One reason is the continued high profile of his music. Within five years of his passing, the labels with which Davis was affiliated began reissue projects of just about everything available from his multi-faceted career. The prolific variety of at least 25 boxed sets and reissues may seem overwhelming to casual fans, but the relentless boxing of Miles is a delight to the jazz world’s compleatists, or at least the Davis contingent. And for that, Miles might smile, or not.

A lengthy rundown of those projects follows.

Columbia started it

Columbia/Legacy began in 1996 an extensive reissue program of eight ornate, multiple-CD, boxed sets that it dubbed the Miles Davis Series. They were Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (released in 1996); Miles Davis Quintet 1965-’68: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (1998); The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (1998); Miles Davis & John Coltrane; The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 (2000); The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions (2001); The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (2003); Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings Of Miles Davis 1963-1964 (2004); and The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (2005). After rolling out those metal-cased sets, the label concluded the series with a limited edition 52-CD set, The Complete Miles Davis Album Collection, in January 2010.

cSix months later, Columbia was out with an ultra-limited edition (2,000 copies) 43-CD set called The Genius of Miles Davis, cleverly packaged in an individually numbered trumpet case. The 21-pound package also includes a custom-designed T-shirt, a fine art lithograph of a Davis painting and a replica of the "Gustat" Heim 2 mouthpiece that Miles used during his career.

In 2001, Columbia/Legacy provided a 75th birthday present for Davis fans who like their music in tidy packages that take up substantially less shelf space, The two-disc set, The Essential Miles Davis, pulled together key chronological works he recorded for seven different labels between 1945 and 1986. It’s all Miles - from his first days in New York with Charlie Parker to his synthesizer-laden pop and funk bands of the '80s.

In the fall of 2010, Columbia/Legacy released Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition to celebrate Davis’s genre-smashing project that blended jazz with the commercial rock world. The boxed set included CDs containing the original recording plus six bonus tracks, a previously unissued performance by his evolving septet at Tanglewood in August 1970, a DVD of a previously unissued quintet performance in Copenhagen, an audiophile vinyl replication of the original album, and reproduced memorabilia. 

Why was so much attention paid to Bitches Brew? Davis had gone head-to-head with arena rock bands at major venues – and found a rock audience welcoming his new group sound. It spawned a new wave of jazz-cum-progressive rock that soon became known as fusion. It paved the way for Weather Report, the Brecker Brothers, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and many other adventurers. At the time, jazz purists were divided over his innovation, questioning where Miles was headed, but now we have a clear sense of its progeny and impact.

Fan choices

In August 2011, another marketing twist entered the picture. Legacy Recordings launched an online initiative called The Miles Davis Fan Project. It was designed to introduce the trumpeter’s music to a digital audience via Facebook and Davis’s official website. Forty classic Miles tracks spanning the post-bop cool of Kind of Blue through the ferocious fusion of Bitches Brew and other Davis explorations were featured on Facebook via the social sound sharing platform SoundCloud. The tracks feature an active "like" button that enabled fans to vote. The 10 recordings receiving the most "likes" from fans online were assembled for Blue Flame, a fan-selected, digital-only album. 

Legacy Recordings General Manager Adam Block said it was the first time the label “has put the music of an artist of this stature in the hands of fans via social media and asked them to create a collection of songs as a new release. That so many fans have chosen to engage, and to utilize the new technologies available to them, testifies to Miles' enduring appeal and eternal 'nowness.'" Blue Flame was released a few weeks after the 20th anniversary of Davis’s passing. Fans selections ran the career-long, stylistic gamut: “'Round Midnight,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Summertime,” “So What,” “All Blues,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down,” “Black Satin,” “Go Ahead John” (a 28-minute outtake from 1970’s Jack Johnson sessions that later was released on Big Fun in 1974) and “Human Nature.”

The Bootleg Series

Columbia/Legacy was far from done. It began issuing a Bootleg Series of recordings by seminal Davis bands, captured in fine form of previously unreleased (or only bootlegged) live performances. There are five so far. Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1, released in 2011, included recordings of three separate concerts in Europe by Davis and his "second great quintet,” consisting of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2, released in 2013, showcased a rather different band: Shorter, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Chick Corea. Davis had never recorded in the studio with this "third quintet" roster, making this its first officially released music.

Miles at the Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3, released in 2014, featured the trumpeter’s four-night stand at promoter Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore East music emporium in New York City for the first time in its entire full-length unedited form. The boxed set includes one disc for each of the concerts, June 17-20, 1970, that Miles and his group performed at the Fillmore East, when his band opened for singer-songwriter Laura Nyro. These performances featured the double keyboard powerhouse with which Davis toured for a few months. Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea played electronic organ and Fender Rhodes, respectively. The other band members were Steve Grossman on saxophones, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. The box also includes three different tracks from an April 11, 1970 concert at Graham’s Fillmore West venue in San Francisco by the same band minus Jarrett.

On July 17, 2015, the 60th anniversary of the trumpeter’s breakthrough performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, Columbia/Legacy Recordings released Miles Davis at Newport 1955-75: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4. It consists of live performances in 1955, 1958, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973 and 1975 in Newport and at festivals carrying the Newport Jazz Festival brand in New York City, Berlin and Switzerland. Most of the material contained in the four-CD set was previously unreleased. A July 17, 1955 all-star jam session at Newport teamed Davis with saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims, pianist Thelonious Monk, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay. Together, they explored “Hackensack,” “'Round Midnight” and “Now's The Time.” Columbia Records’ A&R man George Avakian signed to a recording contract shortly after that appearance. In promoting the material, the label touted Davis’s “20-year association as an artist at impresario George Wein's renowned Newport Jazz Festival.” It actually was a 35-year association, but the compilation does not include any material from Davis late-career performances at Newport in 1984, 1986 or 1990, or at other Newport-related festivals during that later timeframe.

On Oct. 21, 2016, Columbia/Legacy releases Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5. The three-CD set will include performances from three albums: Miles Smiles, Nefertiti and Water Babies, which were recorded between 1966 and 1968. They feature Davis’s Second Great Quintet, which included Shorter, Hancock, Carter and Williams. The label says the collection “provides an unprecedented look into the artist's creative process, drawing on full session reels including all rehearsals, partial and alternate takes, extensive and fascinating studio conversation and more.” In one instance, the session recording of Shorter’s composition “Nefertiti,” captures Davis stopping the band and suggesting the approach they ultimately took: there would be none of the customary solos, turning it into what journalist Nate Chinen called in his New York Times piece “a kind of flowing drum concerto for Mr. Williams.” 

Mono Miles

In 2013, another remastered compilation called The Original Mono Recordings included nine albums that he recorded for the label between 1956 and 1961. In this case, ‘Round About Midnight, Miles Ahead, Milestones, Jazz Track, Porgy and Bess, Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, Someday My Prince Will Come and Miles And Monk At Newport were presented in their original monaural sound. That’s the way virtually all popular music was recorded and intended to be heard at the time. The boxed set put each album in a mini LP-replica jacket with original art. The excellent sound quality gets rid of any manipulations and tinkering that took place when Davis’s classic material was released later in stereo LP or CD formats. In this context, it all sounds fresh and new.

The Prestige years

In 2006, the Prestige label released a 4-CD set called The Miles Davis Quintet, the Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions featuring material that the trumpeter recorded between 1955 and 1958. They included The New Miles Davis Quintet, Workin’, Steamin’, Relaxin’, Cookin’, Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, plus a disc of previously unissued recordings of eight tunes recorded on appearances on “The Tonight Show with Steve Allen” and at club date in Philadelphia and New York. The band for these sessions included tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones.

In May 2016, the month that would have been Davis’s 90th birthday, Prestige reissued the trumpeter’s first albums as a bandleader in a boxed-set called The Complete Prestige 10-Inch LP Collection. The remastered set compiles the 10” records that Davis released from 1951-1954. The 11-LP set includesone bonus record, saxophonist Lee Konitz’s The New Sounds,  on which Davis was a guest artist. The collection includes a 16-page booklet and a print of a painting by Davis.

Blue Note and more  
As part of its 75th anniversary celebration in 2014, Blue Note Records began issuing a series of Blue Note Select collections of multi-CD sets by some of its major artists through the years. It began in May 2014 with Miles Davis / Take Off: The Complete Blue Note Albums. The two-CD set is a collection of Davis’s three Blue Note 10-inch albums plus all alternate takes issued on subsequent 12-inch albums and CD reissues: a total of 26 tracks recorded for Blue Note on three dates in 1952, ’53 and ’54. This is the first time Davis’s10-inch albums Young Man With A Horn, Miles Davis Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 were issued in their original sequence since the early 1950s.

Germany’s Membran label got into the act in 2006 with its release of Just Squeeze Me, a 10-disc set from Davis’s early-to-mid 1950s period. Those studio sessions bridged his formative jazz years and the stylistic tangents that consumed him a few years later. The no-frills boxed set includes his two Blue Note albums (without alternate takes) and his Prestige albums Dig!, Walkin', Bags' Groove, Modern Jazz Giants, Relaxin', Workin' and "Steamin' in their entirety.

In December 2014, Trapeze Music & Entertainment’s Acrobat label released a four-CD boxed set of live recordings by Miles Davis Quintet from a spring 1960 European tour. All Of You: The Last Tour 1960 was compiled from six hours of radio broadcasts and private recordings that the label said “have previously been available in a patchy and piecemeal fashion.” Those concerts featured Davis and John Coltrane at the end of the saxophonist’s five-year association with Davis. The quintet also included Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

The Warner Bros. years

In 2011, Warner Bros.’ European division released a five-CD boxed set Miles Davis The Warner Years: 1986-1991. This project was first planned in 2001 as a six-CD set that was shelved due to legal and licensing issues. The compilation lacks a bit of the originally planned material. The Warner Years offers the complete albums Tutu (1986), Amandla (1989), Live Around the World (1996), the historic Miles and Quincy Live at Montreux (1991), on which Davis revisited his 1950s repertoire with Gil Evans for the first time in decades at the Montreux Jazz Festival. It also included Doo-Bop (1991), plus seven selections from the soundtrack of Dingo (1991) and five from Siesta (1987). Disc 5 included four previously unreleased songs plus 10 performances on which Davis accompanied Scritti Politti, Cameo, Chaka Khan (and Prince), Zucchero Fornaciari, Kenny Garrett, Marcus Miller and Shirley Horn. There is much here to enjoy from Miles’s final creative phase when he further blurred the jazz star/pop star boundaries.


With some more tweaks, Rhino/Warner Bros. in December 2015 released The Last Word - The Warner Bros. Years, a definitive eight-CD boxed set documenting the trumpeter’s work after he left Columbia in 1985. It includes remastered versions of his five Warner Bros. studio recordings – Tutu, Amandla, Doo-Bop, the Dingo and Siesta soundtracks; and three discs of live recordings, including his octet’s full performance at the 1986 Nice Jazz Festival, plus music from the historic Miles and Quincy Live at Montreux.

* Miles Davis photo copyright Ken Franckling/1986


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