The most-reissued performer in jazz is honored by this 4-CD handsome package for both the 80th year of his birth and the 50th anniversary of most of the three recording sessions represented on these discs. One of Miles’ later keyboardists observed that most of the major innovations in modern jazz can be traced back to this classic 1950s quintet. The album cover is an original painting by Miles: “New York at Night” and the 40-page booklet bound in with the discs is a survey of and background on the 32 selections by writer Bob Blumenthal. The album is one of those 11-inch-tall puppies that won’t fit on your shelf with other CDs.
The new quintet went into the studios three times for the Prestige label, around the same time they were also recording for Columbia Records. The three sessions resulted in five different LPs: The New Miles Davis Quintet, Cookin’, Workin’, Relaxin’, and Steamin’. The great audio engineer Rudy Van Gelder was at the controls, and his original “deep mono” master tapes have been remastered in 24-bit and presented in the same sequence in which they were recorded at the original sessions from November 1955 thru October 1956.
This was a watershed time for Davis, as he had assembled a terrific band and the public had finally begun to pay attention to him. It was also some years before Davis got into his fusion/modal bit with Bitches’ Brew and lost many of his original fans. This is the Davis sound that most jazz fans and audiophiles are familiar with and love, and it’s cool to finally have all these tracks together in one spot with the fine annotation and presentation. I also liked that it didn’t include endless alternate takes of any of the tunes.
The fourth disc is a kick – none of it ever before issued on disc. The eight tracks are performances from different radio and TV shows, including two tunes from Steve Allen’s 1954 Tonight Show. Allen tries his best to explain Davis’ music to viewers, but sounds horribly gauche – especially when Davis replies the first time in his raspy voice and Allen asks “Do you have a cold, Miles?”
I did some comparisons with previous audiophile reissues of some of these tracks. A DCC gold CD version of “Miles” with The New Miles Davis Quintet has the first six tracks in the new Prestige set. It proved completely identical in sound to the new reissue set. I also had the Prestige/Fantasy SACD stereo reissue of “Relaxin.” Those six tracks did prove to have an edge over the same tracks on the new reissue – a direct result of the greater resolving power of the SACD format. Mile’s trumpet sound more distant on the SACD than on the new set, but one of those familiar veils was lifted compared to the 44.1 CD. There was more of a brassy sound from the trumpet and the instrument just sounded more “there.” It was similar to moving from, say, an entry-level CD player to something like a Wadia or Meridian.
So I think I’ll keep the SACD but I’ll also treasure this superb package of four Prestige CDs put together with such care, courtesy of Concord Music Group.