The Original Mono Recordings
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For nearly half a century, Miles Davis (1926-1991) was arguably the preeminent innovator in jazz - rarely staying in the same place twice, experimenting with the most cutting-edge styles and ideas he could imagine. This year, some of Miles' most enduring works for Columbia Records are collected the way they were originally heard: MILES DAVIS: THE ORIGINAL MONO RECORDINGS.
Here, Miles Davis' first nine 12-inch albums for Columbia will be collected in one package - all in impeccable mono mixes for the first time on CD. Seven of these albums - 'Round About Midnight, Miles Ahead (both 1957), Milestones (1958), Porgy And Bess, Kind Of Blue (both 1959), Sketches Of Spain (1960) and Someday My Prince Will Come (1961) - are familiar classics which saw Miles rise to prominence as an architect of the hard bop style of jazz before revolutionizing the genre with ventures into modal jazz. Of these, Milestones and Kind of Blue remain among the most universally recognized jazz recordings in the world.
MILES DAVIS: THE ORIGINAL MONO RECORDINGS also includes two exciting rare albums:
1958's Jazz Track features 10 compositions recorded for a French film, L'Ascenseuer Pour l'Echafaud, and three selections from an acclaimed session recorded shortly after the release of Milestones. (These sessions served as a prelude to Kind Of Blue, starring Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. These are the only other studio sides by Davis sextet before recording what would become the best-selling jazz album of all time.)
Miles & Monk At Newport, released in 1964, features selections from two separate live performances at the Newport Jazz Festival: Davis' leading the same sextet from Jazz Track in 1958, and a 1963 set from pianist Thelonious Monk, just recently signed to Columbia Records from the Riverside label.
Each CD, newly remastered, will be housed in a mini-LP replica jacket, faithfully replicating the original LP sleeves. They will be packed in a casemade slipcase which will also hold a 40-page booklet with a brand-new essay. This is the true genius of Miles Davis as most people first heard it, the way it was intended to be heard: in mono.
'Round About Midnight
Porgy And Bess
Kind Of Blue
Sketches Of Spain
Someday My Prince Will Come
Miles And Monk At Newport
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"In short, you can purchase this record with no fear of it's becoming obsolete in the future." The "small print" on the back of a 1959 Columbia Records mono edition of a Miles Davis album.
Chances are if you're reading this you're at least familiar with a few (if not all) of these albums--now in wonderful sounding monophonic sound. The best of these albums include some of the finest jazz of the Twentieth Century. And with fans now able to hear them in mono, we have a chance to better hear what the music originally sounded like back when it was recorded. And this box set does the job it was intended to do.
"Mono featured less audio trickery and fewer audio distractions, so you can actually hear the musical conversation between Miles and the other musicians as it occurred in the studio." George Avakian.
The music itself (obviously) hasn't really changed, just the way we hear it. And for fans of monophonic sound (like me) there's no real revelations across these albums (the majority featuring Coltrane alongside Davis), just a smooth, clean mono sound. I keep hearing that the master mono tapes for the album "Kind Of Blue" have been missing for many years or they have deteriorated beyond use, and if so, the engineers have done a fine job with that classic album. Do a comparison of the stereo editions with these mono editions and I think you'll hear the difference is notable. Instruments that sounded slightly low in the mix now have agreeable space around them--you'll hear with more clarity the different instruments that in the stereo versions seemed to be in the background.
"Can he play?" Davis asking about Coltrane.
"Uh huh." Philly Joe Jones' understated answer.
And the "rare" albums--the soundtrack to "Lift To The Scaffold" (a personal favorite--and dig that crazy 50's cover man!) and the Miles and Monk live sets--have been around for years, maybe not with the original album graphics ("Lift To The Scaffold"), but still easily obtainable. And the three tracks ("On Green Dolphin Street", "Fran-Dance", and "Stella By Starlight") recorded in 1958, just before the "Kind Of Blue" sessions, have been previously available. But saying that, all three tracks are well worth having (especially the nearly 10 minute "On Green Dolphin Street") because they reinforce how good this band was. But I don't understand why Sony is touting these albums as some kind of long lost rarities.
The booklet contains a fairly long essay with good information on the various albums and tracks and how they were mastered for monophonic sound, along with period photos. Any lengthy information on the individual albums, the musicians, or the music itself has already been written about in previous album notes, and can be found elsewhere. Plus it's nice to have all the original album covers (not just the "Lift To The Scaffold" soundtrack album) for these seminal albums--a small point but it is nice. Several of these albums featured different cover graphics over the years depending on who released them--the Fontana label is a good example. The outer packaging is similar (though slightly smaller) to the Dylan mono collection from a while back. Everything is nicely done--the clean sound, the thick booklet and the clean looking outer packaging--make this a beautifully understated looking and (most importantly) fine sounding collection.
And while I own all the Davis box sets, plus various individual albums (both CD and original vinyl from way back), I can't help but think that this mono set may be another way for the big labels to grab more of our money. Miles Davis has said in the past that the original albums should speak for themselves--that's it. And Davis' long time friend and producer Teo Macero has said repeatedly that Davis would never have allowed most, if any, of the extra tracks appended to the original album's finished tunes for release. But I have to admit I do like hearing most of the extra tracks that have been issued on the various box sets. For me some tracks do give a better understanding of the finished music, and some don't.
"My music has to get past me, and I'm too vain to play anything I think is bad." Miles Davis.
I'd like to think I'm wrong, but I still have a picture in my mind of a slyly smiling dark suited accountant, with his hand holding open his pocket, so my (and other fan's) money can more easily slip into it. But the chance to get closer to the "original" mono sound will no doubt suck in a number of fans (obviously including me) who want to hear what Davis and the producers/engineers heard way back in another era.
It's nice to see that this fine set is now available at a more realistic price ($50 or so) even if it's from only a very few U.S. sellers. For whatever reason this set seems to be readily available at a decent price in Europe. Hmmm. Hopefully more U.S. sellers will have this in stock at a good price soon so more fans will be able to afford it. This isn't an "import" from Europe so I'm perplexed as to why it isn't readily available from a good number of U.S. sellers.
I realize that mono sound isn't everyone's cup of tea. But for those of us who've been waiting for this set to be released, the wait has been worth it. Hopefully, wherever Miles Davis is, he isn't too unhappy with what's happening to his music.
And for a fantastically illustrated large format book on Davis, check out "Miles Davis the complete illustrated history" (sic), with contributions by Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Ashley Kahn, Francis Davis, George Wein, Ron Carter, Clark Terry, and a number of others who knew Davis. But it's the memorabilia reproduced from Davis' entire life that takes center stage--photographs, ads, posters, album covers, etc. If you're a Davis fan you probably need this book.
The book included has a lot of photos, track listing and brief notes about the remastering of the Mono set. It would have been nice to get the original liner notes reproduced in the booklet, but most people getting this probably have the stereo remasters already which have the liner notes. The liner notes are reproduced on the back of the mini-LP sleeves, but it is in really tiny print.
(Also, for anyone just looking for a great deal on a bunch of Miles Davis albums (not caring about Mono) I noticed another box set, Perfect Miles Davis Collection , which has 20 cd's and has several of the stereo versions from this Mono set, with a cheaper price per album. )
As far as the sound... spectacular. Instruments are much more crisp, clear, and easier to discern than they were in the old stereo mixes. This is the case with both the small group albums and the Gil Evans larger ensemble arrangements. I thought these mono mixes would sound more primitive or dated, but it's actually the exact opposite. Old favorites sound brand new. Even if you have had these (or even several previous versions of these) recordings, this set is more than worth the investment.
Top international reviews
I am glad that I took the plunge - the clear sound on "Porgy & Bess" was a revelation after the miriad of muddy sound experiences that I have had in the past. The focused, crisp and dynamic drum sound on the track "Gone" was a revelation. Where was this on my previous copies? "Sketches of Spain" doesn't need the STEREO soundstage to give convincing depth to the proceedings. The fact that these discs are MONO was hardly noticed - the clarity of every instrument shines through - it is all here on these original reworked tape transfers. Packaging artwork also correct for the original issues. Congratulations to Mark Wilder and all the production team for a solid and worthwhile reissue. Now, how about giving this stellar treatment to the host of other Miles Davis albums that have been reissued and pushed out onto the market over the years without any real thought about the sonic end result.
Most of you looking at this box will only be wondering whether or not to shell out again for music you probably already own in its now traditional stereo form. The answer in my opinion is most definitely.
You get the original albums in very good quality miniature sleeves. It would have been nice to have had the discs in high quality plastic sleeves like the Beatles mono set but sadly this was not to be.
The mastering is sensational: clear and detailed . The booklet gives information as to how this was done and which masters were used but the bottom line is to my ears it all sounds fabulous. I much prefer the mono of recordings such as this as it sounds much more "real". I've always had difficulty with early stereo when things are heavily panned and although these albums aren't particularly lousy in stereo the mono is a revelation. I can't imaging many people feeling short changed after a few listens.
This box contains one of the greatest "hot streaks" of any musician in the era of recorded music. There are no extra tracks as on the stereo reissues but, quite frankly, why would you need them? This is genius at work. Show me another series of albums comparable in impact and I'll buy them as well.
You need this in your life.
But I like the idea of early Miles and figured I'd finally take the plunge with this Mono set.
The lush Evans stuff (the opposite of the 70's stuff) really stood out. I also liked the Jazz Tracks disc which had a nice noir vibe (it was the soundtrack to a French film about a robbery gone wrong when a guy gets stuck in an elevator. I've seen it, it's a good movie).
Anyway, after a few weeks of playing this stuff constantly I grew to like it via audio osmosis.
But like I said, I'm not familiar enough with the stuff to tell you if these are superior/inferior masters to what's available.
About presentation: The CDs are contained in vinyl packet replicas. The packets are thick and made from durable cardboard. There's also a booklet of liner notes (a nice touch, imo) which helped fill in some of the info and reprinted the original liner notes (no squinting to read them on those little replica sleeves). Given the price, I would have liked a little more info but at the same time, there's always the internet.
I bought this as a gamble tho and for me it worked out great!
The sound reproduction on these albums is just stunning. I haven't played all of them yet but I'm sure that none will disappoint.