(BUT NOT ALL HIS BOOTS)
I love Miles Davis. Whether as a contributing midwife to the Birth of the Cool, the ultra-hip trumpeter of the late 50s, the restless innovator of the 60s, or inspiring bandleader and outta-space musician of the 70s, his is an endlessly varied—and indeed endless—catalogue. If you are browsing a shop or on-line store and can’t think of anything you really want (other than to buy an album), then the Miles section is sure to throw up something interesting and tasty.
The proof of this rubric is demonstrated in the Vinyl Connection spreadsheet, where no less than seventy-seven titles appear. That’s one percent of the entire collection, and fifty percent more than the nearest competitor.* Yet it is but a selection of all releases bearing the jazz trumpeter’s name.
As a marker of quality, most of the albums on the VC shelves have been enjoyed multiple times and matched to different moods; they are not simply taking up shelf space. What’s more, with the commitment—some might say avarice—of the Miles Davis re-issue industry, there are always new and often intriguing releases entering the marketplace for completists, fans and even the jazz-curious to check-out.
One unexpected gem uncovered by the vault archeologists at Sony-Columbia was the 2013 release Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 by the Miles Davis Quintet. Comprising three CDs and a DVD, this performance document is an absolute corker.
Wayne Shorter (tenor and soprano sax), Chick Corea (electric piano and piano), Dave Holland (bass) and Jack De Johnette (drums) are burning both as individual soloists and as band members of extreme intuition. Hot and cool, soaring and scuzzy, tight and explosive; the entire band is alight. The fact that the ‘third’ quintet was not really recorded in the studio makes this set particularly juicy for jazz fans. Material is drawn from a number of albums including Milestones and Bitches Brew and shows how Miles’ increasing use of electric instruments was pointing towards the studio albums just around the corner (the electrifying Jack Johnson, for example).
Fans of Chick Corea (like your correspondent) will love this set; the young pianist is all over it. Whether testing the outer limits of his electric piano, adding rhythmic underpinning or interacting with the other musicians, Corea is in absolutely scintillating form. But then, so is everyone else on Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2.
Seemed to me that this was one archival series was worth watching.
So when, earlier this year, I read about a 3LP vinyl release of Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series Vol. 5, it didn’t take many late night trawling sessions before an order was placed. The sticker said “Celebrates the 50th anniversary of Miles Smiles”—a truly great jazz album released in 1967—and the band comprised Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. Nuff’ said.
Or perhaps not. It was in no way clear that the previously unreleased “session recordings” mentioned on the cover sticker were in fact rehearsal tapes. Endless repetitive fragments of the band practising the pieces.
It sounds like this:
Ba-be-ba ba, ba-biddy-ba
Ba-be-ba ba ba ba-biddy-ba ba
Ba-be-ba ba, ba-biddy-
Most of the entire three LP set comprises these minuscule morsels, of conceivable interest only to an obsessed jazz musician, the type who would fight to win an auction for Miles Davis’ soiled trumpet-cleaning rag or crumbs from his lunchtime snack box.
Now get this: the CD version (also a triple, but much longer) includes Master Takes, thus providing the cooked meal to enjoy after witnessing the kitchen preparation. These finished dishes are omitted from the vinyl, adding major insult to injury.
This is without doubt one of the most exploitative and disappointing releases I’ve suckered myself into forking out serious money for.#
The conclusion is clear. No matter when or where you are browsing, irrespective of how many glasses of red you have consumed, notwithstanding the countless lonely hours since your last album purchase… DO YOUR RESEARCH.
This was a Public Service Announcement** from Vinyl Connection.
I’m off to play Live In Europe: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 now. On CD.
* Forty-nine entries for Pink Floyd, in case you were wondering.
# There are several others, naturally, but writing a series would be too depressing.
** aka Spleen Venting Exercise