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VERY FINE JAZZ FROM DAVIS AND HIS BAND
on September 20, 2011
Three discs-62,64,72 minutes each approximately. The sound is good, with good separation between the instruments, except the bass which is recorded/mixed a bit low in the music. The DVD is about 1 hour long. This is the same DVD released as part of the 2009 70 CD package of Davis' music, and it gives you a feel for the depth of playing from consummate musicians in this band. The discs are snapped inside a quad-fold wallet style cardboard holder. The 26 page booklet is loose inside the package-there's no "slot" for it, and it could easily fall out. There's an essay by Ashley Kahn, who has written about Davis, Coltrane, and other jazz greats. There's also a number of period b & w photos throughout the booklet. Track information is printed on the back of the package-some details in very small font-and also inside the booklet.
This has been a fine summer/fall for music, with the GRATEFUL DEAD releasing a 73 CD, Europe '72 package, the 4 CD Jimi Hendrix at Winterland compilation, and now this release from Miles Davis. It's also interesting that each of these groups had something in common-namely to push music somewhere new, exciting, and different.
This music, by Davis' second great band, was recorded in Europe while the band was part of the "Newport Jazz Festival in Europe" package. Also performing were Gary Burton, Archie Shepp, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan, and others. This music by Davis' band has been bootlegged for years, so it's nice to hear an officially sanctioned release with good sound. If you've heard "Winter In Europe 1967", or the massive but fine "Live at the Plugged Nickel" set, then you have an idea in what direction this music is going.
Davis and the band were looking to play jazz in a new direction-"Even we didn't know where it was all going to. And every night I would have to react". As Davis has said about this band. Gone were the standard jazz changes-this band played a cooler, more abstract music, while still based in the blues. The band plays with a combination of logic, trust, and emotion. While the basic melody was used, Davis was playing in a more modal style. Even the format had changed-Davis would now blend the end of one song into the next, with no formal start or stop. His playing is lively and intelligent, and contains a lot of excitement. Shorter's sax, with a debt to Coltrane, was emotional and intelligent. Hancock could play anything from swing to be-bop, to this new style of jazz-listen to his piano playing, from rapid notes to delicate fills. Carter was an intelligent, sensitive bassist, and Williams (still a teenager) was a powerhouse drummer, who drove the band, yet could play with great finesse-listen to his cymbal work. George Wein (producer-"Newport Jazz Festival in Europe") was right when he said, "That group was not ahead of it's time. They were the time".
A number of these compositions are perfect examples of this new style. Listen to "Agitation", "Footprints", or even a well played tune like "Round Midnight", and you will hear a band that changed the music every night. Davis has said the band would discuss their playing every night (sometimes all night) and that the music changed every night-everything was in flux. But this band had a rhythm section that played as a single unit, and was a perfect foundation for both Shorter and Davis.
Having the chance to hear several compositions played throughout the tour is a chance to hear how the music did change every night. Something you might hear one night is gone the next. And in it's place is something else new-and that might disappear the next night. And that's what makes this box set so valuable, so exciting. Not only is the music first rate, but it's played differently in every composition. This band played so intuitively-both as a group and individually, that the music still swung, still had emotion, even when playing in uncharted waters. A number of tracks are lengthy, which gives the band time to expand and explore the music, especially in front of a European audience, who appreciate jazz on a level far higher than in the U.S. Can you imagine what it must have been like to walk into a concert hall, knowing you're about to hear one of the best groups in jazz history, to actually watch these artists, as they laid out this music in front of you-live in the moment? The DVD accompanying this set is, unfortunately not as well done as most would like. It's simply not up to most fans standards. It does give a good idea of what the looked and sounded like, but the quality, from TV station tapes, isn't all that great. But for me the music portion of this release is the most important.
This is one of the most exciting bands Davis ever had. And now with this set, we can hear the proof of that. This music was a living thing-it moved and morphed constantly. And with a band like this, the music was never less than good, and was, at it's best, some of the finest jazz in the world. Just sit back and listen to Davis solo, or Hancock, or Shorter, or Williams, or (occasionally) Carter, and you'll hear jazz at it's best.