The Austin Chronicle

Record Reviews


Reviewed by Harvey Pekar, May 19, 2000, Music

Miles Davis with John Coltrane

The Complete Columbia Recordings (Columbia)

Miles Davis' quintet and sextet recordings with John Coltrane are among the most important in jazz history. Davis' leading role in so many movements -- bop, cool, post-bop, modal, fusion, and the unnamed genre he created with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock -- is amazing. On this 6-CD, chronologically arranged set, Davis' work evolves from post-bop to modal styles. In 1956, Davis had what was arguably the greatest of all post-bop bands: tenor saxman John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Coltrane, whose main influence had been Dexter Gordon, had already become a harmonically advanced innovator when he joined Davis, with a unique lean but dark tone. He was known for playing complex flurries of notes called "sheets of sound." Garland's method of chord voicing and establishing a groove by punctuating twice per bar with his left hand influenced many pianists, including Wynton Kelly. The quintet had already cut some sides for Prestige before coming to Columbia in 1956; Davis' initial Columbia album, 'Round About Midnight, is similar to the Prestige sessions. On the subsequent Milestones, the legendary trumpet player had evolved, adding saxman Cannonball Adderley to his band and thus enriching the ensemble's sound (the modal title tune drew much attention in the jazz community, foreshadowing Kind of Blue). Featuring the playing and writing of pianist Bill Evans, another modal pioneer, it was fully devoted to the modal style, and not only revolutionary, but so lyrical that it became popular with the general public. The remaining contents of this set were originally scattered over a miscellany of Davis' albums and anthologies, sometimes issued years after they were cut, or previously unissued at all. As a result, some performances have received far less attention than they deserve -- for example, the stunning, reharmonized version of "Sweet Sue, Just You," first released on a Leonard Bernstein LP. One hopes assembling all this material together on one set will refocus attention on it, but nonetheless, it contains recordings by some of the greatest of all jazz musicians at the peak of their creativity and inspiration, performing music that by this time is accessible to many general listeners.


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