Miles Davis – Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet – Prestige /Fantasy/Analogue Productions

by | Jul 25, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Miles Davis – Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet (1956)– Prestige /Fantasy/Analogue Productions mono SACD CPRJ 7094 SA, 34:02 *****:

(Miles Davis – trumpet; John Coltrane – tenor saxophone; Red Garland – piano; Paul Chambers – double  bass; “Philly” Joe Jones – drums)

There have been many giants in jazz history, but only a few that impacted the genre culture. At the top of that list are Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Davis became a fixture in the late forties and early fifties hard bebop scene. He replaced Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker’s quintet and began to develop his “counter-bop” melodic approach to trumpet. Eventually he met and collaborated with Canadian Gil Evans. A new movement, Cool Jazz began to emerge and featured players like Kai Winding, John Lewis, Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan. There was some controversy regarding the interracial makeup of Cool Jazz but that did not impede its destiny. Davis emerged as a fiery personality and would assume leadership of his own group.

Despite personal issues in the early fifties (including a well-documented bout with drug addiction), Davis assembled his first great quintet. Featuring Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone) Red Garland (piano), “Philly” Joe Jones (drums) and Paul Chambers (doublebass), the band performed a memorable set at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955. They were offered a contract, if they could stay together. Rollins had to leave (drug problem) and was replaced by a not yet famous John Coltrane. Their catalogue (especially with Prestige Records) was scintillating and would be celebrated for decades. The four Prestige albums were completed to fulfill a contractual obligation.

Analogue Productions has re-released their Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet on mono SACD. [We got this back in 2004, and again on standard CD from Fantasy in 2007 {see below}. Don’t know why we received it yet again…Ed.] The original ensemble recorded four albums from the brief (two-day) session, engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.  The title is a reference to Davis’ comment,  ”After all that’s what we did, came in and cooked”. This album was the first in the four-part series. The opening track is a lyrical, elegant version of Richard Rodgers’ perennial classic, “My Funny Valentine”. After a short piano intro, Davis caresses a subtle, yet motional melody on muted trumpet. The rhythm section gently envelops the jam until the 2:30 mark when an up tempo shift leads to an extended Red Garland solo. The song gracefully returns to its meditative ambiance. Still regarded as a hard-bop band, “Blues In Five” is clear about that. Following an exciting counter between Garland and Coltrane, there is a deft tempo shift. Davis and Coltrane attack the melody line with arresting crispness. At 0:50, Davis takes over in crystalline vibrato-less lines. He swings with force, and pushes the tonal range of his horn. At 2:25 Coltrane starts wailing on his tenor. With technique and improvisational flair, he matches the intensity of the group.

One of the hard bop highlights is “Airegin” (Nigeria spelled backwards). Originally recorded by Davis in 1954 (with Sonny Rollins/tenor sax, Horace Silver/piano, Percy Heath/doublebass and Kenny Clarke/drums), this jam is fueled by the propulsive intensity of Chambers and Jones. Davis’ opening solo is brisk and full of interesting phrasing. Coltrane is equally dynamic, surging with frenetic energy. Garland solos, then some artful drum fills from Jones punctuate the musical flow. Toward the end, Davis and Coltrane play off each other with great finesse. The finale “Tuneup” (also previously recorded) is a bluesy stroll that showcases concise band interplay and a glimpse into the future of Cool Jazz. All the soloists (Davis, Coltrane and Garland) emphasize tuneful wistfulness and interpretive skill. Miles Davis’ technique and band leadership is on a sharp ascent.

Van Gelder supervised the initial conversion to digital CD in 2007. The SACD takes it a slight step further. There is an increased vibrancy to the trumpet and saxophone tonality. The drums and bass have a palpable reverberation in the mixing. Mono fidelity seldom sounded as good as this! [But you’ll have to decide if the slight enhancement is worth $40 vs. the inexpensive remastered standard CD version…Ed.]

TrackList: My Funny Valentine; Blues By Five; Airegin; Tune Up

—Robbie Gerson



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