Miles Davis – Seven Steps to Heaven – Reissue of 1963 Columbia LP /Sony Music/Analogue Productions three-channel SACD CAPJ 8851 SA, 46.2 min. [9/14/10] [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
(Miles Davis, trumpet; Victor Feldman, piano; Herbie Hancock, piano; George Coleman, tenor sax; Frank Butler, drums; Anthony Williams, drums; Ron Carter, bass)
This is the classic Miles session when he was still being fairly tonal and straightforward. He picked up Herbie Hancock from Blue Note and Victor Feldman from Ava Records and unlike his Someday My Prince Will Come album of the same period, this one comes with an excellent essay in the note booklet by Leonard Feather. All the performers are first rate and Miles didn’t direct them overmuch – he tended to expect they would follow his plans by intuition.
The opening track of Basin Street Blues is nothing like you might be familiar with from trad jazz recordings, but still rather straightforward in its handling of the theme. It is also by far the lengthiest of the six tracks, at 10½ minutes. Of course the title track, the next one up, is one of the most famous Miles’ themes ever. The Columbia/Legacy reissue of the original session of 1992 remastered the original tapes and is quite good, but an A/B comparison with the three-channel SACD from Analogue Productions shows a much more realistic and musical-sounding piano (though it’s unknown which of the two pianists is at the keyboard). When Miles comes in on center, his trumpet is more colorful, detailed and rich-sounding than on the standard CD. The drums also possess a more varied and detailed presence in the mix. There is no mention of the three-channels anywhere except for the little box that says Multi-ch & Stereo. That is similar to the Everest SACD reissue of Villa-Lobos and Ginastera – it is labeled multichannel for its three front channels. I believe all the other jazz SACD reissues from Analogue Productions are two channel.
Though Gil Evans was not involved in these two sessions, I think Miles picked up some fine pointers from his earlier work with Evans which made this session much deeper and more sophisticated than one would expect from a typical jazz quintet featuring trumpet. Of course with Miles it’s not typical at all.
TrackList: Basin Street Blues; Steven Steps to Heaven; I Fall in Love Too Easily, So Near So Far, Baby Won’t You Please Come Home; Joshua.
— John Henry