Miles Davis – The Complete Miles Davis Columbia Album Collection ★★★★★

Miles Davis Complete ColumbiaColumbia / Legacy (70 CDs and DVD)

Miles Davis (t, keys) and many others. Rec. 1949-1985

OK buddy, you already own most of Miles Davis’ Columbia CDs, or at least the key titles. You’ve forked out for the odd box set or two and maybe even replaced the original CDs with shiny new remasters that beckoned with their cargo of alternate takes, unreleased gems and improved sound. And now this colossus emerges. Not just another box set mind, but the biggest box set ever produced outside of the classical music world. All 50 Columbia albums released during Miles lifetime – from In Paris Festival International De Jazz May 1949 through to Aura recorded in 1985 – plus the 2CD set, Live At Fillmore East (March 7, 1970)It’s About That Time, released in 2001, and for the first time on CD the complete, jaw-dropping performance from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. It’s without question the most important single artist catalogue in jazz history and one that pioneered and landmarked almost every new phase of the music since the 1950s. But hey, do you need to buy them all again?

For starters the remastered sound quality across all 50 albums trumps the original CD releases and even improves on some more recent reissues in comparative A/B listening tests, revealing a crisper top end, deeper more resonant bass and more pronounced detail in the middle spectrum. Many of the titles come with bonus cuts taken from the now hard-to-find “metal spine” box set series that have been included on remastered editions since the late 1990s. And for the final touch the albums have been marched down to Columbia’s costume department and dressed in beautiful new mini-LP replica cardboard jackets, similar to the mid-1990s Japan Mastersound series.

But it doesn’t stop there. Two previously unreleased tracks have been added to In Paris Festival International De Jazz, May 1949; three bonus cuts from the Miles and Gil Evans box are added to Quiet Nights including ‘The Time of the Barracudas’ suite and ‘Devil May Care’; the 2-CD set, At Plugged Nickel, is expanded with the full length unedited versions of the tracks taken from the long out-of-print Complete At The Plugged Nickel box, and the 1982 live album, We Want Miles, is expanded for the first time with three additional tracks from the Tokyo concert. Pangaea devotees will be pleased to find it includes the unedited length cut of ‘Gondwana’ from the Japan Mastersound version, though sticks to the original version of Agharta.

A bonus DVD, Live In Europe ’67 includes two previously unreleased concerts from Stockholm and Karlsruhe, Germany, featuring the second classic quintet of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams deconstructing standards and exploring then new material such as ‘Agitation’ and ‘Footprints’. Beautifully filmed in crisp black and white and produced by the same team responsible for the award winning Jazz Icons DVD series, this is the band at their peak, pushing the music’s boundaries to breaking point while being driven by Williams’ astonishing inventiveness. Completing this limited edition box set is a 250-page biography of Miles, album annotations, rare photos and a complete tune index. And now comes the killer. To buy these titles individually, even if they were all available, would set you back over £350. This beautifully put together box set however retails for a remarkable £160, or less. To echo my late Jazzwise colleague, Keith Shadwick: “Run, don’t walk to the record store.” It’s a no-brainer, really.

– Jon Newey

Gary Burton and Chick Corea – Crystal Silence: The ECM Recordings 1972-79 ★★★★★

Crystal SilenceECM

Gary Burton (vbs) and Chick Corea (p)

This four-CD set brings together Crystal Silence (1972), Duet (1978) and the live double album In Concert: Zürich, October 28, 1979, the latter two albums winning Grammy Awards and their first collaboration from 1972 selling in excess of 400,000 copies. Even some 30 years later, these albums retain their freshness, intensity and still manage to communicate the sheer joy of music making shared between Burton and Corea. Two virtuosos of their respective instruments, there are moments on each album when the level of creativity is such that it demands repeated listening, so compelling is their shared artistry.

The story begins with Crystal Silence when the two participants were brought together at the instigation of producer Manfred Eicher. What was originally intended as a one-off project quickly flowered into a meeting of minds. Superficially, this music dazzles. Burton, in particular, has never really been recognised for his jaw dropping virtuosity when the mood takes him. Yet this compelling virtuosic music has depth, a powerful duality that lends their collaborations here an enduring quality. That this delicately poised chamber jazz that could be transferred to the concert stage is demonstrated on the Zürich concert, which many argue is the highspot of their collaborations during this period. Burton would later comment how easy, joyful and inspiring it was to make music with Chick Corea, a process they would both claim was like thinking together. It is perhaps here that this most apt description of their music lies; the music is so compelling that from the opening ‘Señor Mouse’ you dare not boorishly interrupt the concert by moving on to another track or another album, but feel compelled to listen to every number and every twist and turn the music takes, to observe every nuance and filigree detail with an intensity that matches the performance. Music making of such a sustained high level of this deserves to be heard and heard again by fresh generations of listeners, for it is truly something special.

– Stuart Nicholson

Keith Jarrett – Testament (Paris/London) ★★★★★

Keith Jarrett TestamentECM

Keith Jarrett (p). Rec. 2008

Keith Jarrett is one of a handful of artists in jazz who gives evidence of almost continuous artistic growth, refining and improving not only his approach to the piano in terms of touch but to his melodic and harmonic conception as well. Throughout he has striven to exile cliché and gratuitous gesture so that his solo discography from Facing You in 1972 to this, quite possibly the finest representation of his solo art to date, is one of a style, conception and approach continually evolving.

For example, he is critical of his touch on Köln Concert for example, well aware that through his exacting process of self examination and self improvement it is now something that is admired and even envied by the piano playing fraternity in jazz. What Radiance (2002) and The Carnegie Hall Concert (2006) made plain was that he was past the long, uninterrupted solo improvisation seeking instead spontaneously conceived episodes that were sufficient in themselves, shorter blocks of material that said everything Jarrett wished to say in the moment. If this rigorous self-editing resulted in episodes of five or 15 minutes, so be it. With Testament – a three CD set of his concerts at Salle Pleyel in Paris and the Royal Festival Hall in London at the end of last year – the creation of these episodes has become more refined, and also more expansive with Jarrett inclined to draw on a wide range of musical inspiration rather than the more focused creation of a single mood. This approach is best illustrated by the London concert, where over 12 musical episodes Jarrett moves from an introspective, requiem-like opening to moods that rock with such exuberance it delighted his audience. It is a fascinating document of what those who were present say was an occasion charged with electricity, with Jarrett delivering at the very top of his form.

– Stuart Nicholson

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um (50th Anniversary Edition) ★★★★★

Mingus Ah UmSony Legacy

Mingus (b, p) with various line-ups incl. Richard Williams/Don Ellis (t), Jimmy Knepper/Willie Dennis (tb), John Handy, Booker Ervin, Shafi Hadi (reeds), Horace Parlan/Roland Hanna (p) and Dannie Richmond (d). Rec. 5 May-13 Nov 1959

One of the distinguishing factors in Mingus’ 1959 recordings is that, unlike the five- or six-piece working groups of the previous few years, he was allowed to expand his personnel in the studio. That obviously includes Atlantic’s rough-and-ready Blues And Roots which, in a couple of tunes, functioned as an alternate version of Ah Um but which was not released for over a year. By then, Ah Um had made its impact, not least because of sidemen such as Knepper, Ervin and Handy – none of them “names” until chosen by Mingus – and, similarly, the great Richmond. Another factor in its success was a killer selection of nine tunes. A programme starting out with three remarkably different blues – ‘Better Git It In Your Soul’, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ and ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ – could hardly fail to grab Mingus fans, but the performances were tight enough to convince many doubters as well.

This 50th Anniversary Edition actually contains a whole extra album, namely Mingus Dynasty – which means, incidentally, that nearly all of the previous triple-CD reissue of this material is included on the present double. This is where the trumpets were added. Though Michael Cuscuna’s reissue note observes that Dynasty’s short-term impact was less marked, in one way it’s even more impressive, especially with the writing involved in ‘Far Wells, Mill Valley’ and ‘Diane’ played by an 11-piece band with flute and vibes. But there’s also stuff such as ‘Song With Orange’ and ‘Gunslinging Bird’.

– Brian Priestley

Miles Davis – Sketches Of Spain (50th Anniversary Edition) ★★★★★

Miles Davis Sketches of SpainSony Legacy

Miles Davis (t), 21-piece big bands and Gil Evans (arr, cond). Rec. 6 May 1957-19 May 1961. Plus John Coltrane (ts), Wynton Kelly (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Jimmy Cobb (d). Rec. 21 Mar 1961

1958’s Porgy And Bess was the jazziest of the Miles-and-Gil collaborations, while its predecessor Miles Ahead was the most innovative and groundbreaking, in its concerto format and breadth of material. Sketches Of Spain, whose 50th anniversary Sony are celebrating, is the masterpiece that leaves all possible comment falling short and the contents falling outside of most categories before or since. In the second half of the 1950s, a lot of talk and work went into trying to create the “third stream” of jazz-meets-classical-and-lives-happily-after. Compared to its few relatively acceptable remnants, Sketches dwarfs the theory and stands on its own. It’s also one of the great incarnations of “modal jazz”, both in parts of the ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ and the rest of the more folk-derived material. Best of all, you don’t think (except during the majestic ‘Saeta’) in terms of tourist-image Spain.

With the extra item ‘Song Of Our Country’ based on composer Villa-Lobos, the album is expanded on the second CD by alternate takes first compiled on the 1996 Davis-Evans box set, which give an idea of the challenge facing both Miles and the band, plus the live ‘Concierto’ done at Carnegie Hall in 1961. Two surprising additions are ‘The Maids Of Cadíz’ from Miles Ahead and the slightly related quintet track ‘Teo’ – but then you could argue for adding ‘Blues For Pablo’ (“from a Mexican folk song”, according to Evans) or indeed for ‘Flamenco Sketches’ with its repeated D7-based Spanish section. And there would certainly be space for ‘Song #1’ and ‘Song #2’ from Quiet Nights, both based on Iberian material (a fact unacknowledged in the Miles-Gil literature). The only real blemish is the omission of the 15-second ending to ‘Cadíz’ – yes, the original LP was wrongly banded but all the box-set alternate takes, not used here, say the ending should be included. Despite that, this is still a five-star achievement.

– Brian Priestley

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