Music Reviews

Jazz - Part 12 - July, 2000

Dennis Davis




"Kind of Blue"

Miles Davis

Columbia; CS-8163

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This is, of course, the album that everyone already has and the album that everyone knows, even if they never listen to jazz.  Miles Davis’ classic album with John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on tenor saxophone, Paul Chambers on bass, James Cobb on drums, and Bill Evans on piano (except on “Freddie Freeloader” where Wynton Kelly plays piano).  "Kind of Blue" (KOB) was a culmination of what many believe to have been Davis’ greatest group.  The great quintet of Davis, Coltrane, Chambers, Red Garland on piano, and Philly Joe Jones on drums had released some of the greatest jazz albums of all times in the years leading up to the KOB sessions.  Davis had disbanded that group in the fall of 1956, because of the inability of group members to regulate their drug habits.  By December of 1957, all of the original members had returned along with Adderley.  In May of 1958, Jones left the band and was replaced by Cobb.  Around the same time, Davis replaced Garland with Bill Evans, who shared Davis’ interest in modal composition and improvisation.  Evans left the group in November of 1958, and was replaced by Wynton Kelly.  Evans did return for two days in the studio with the group in the Spring of 1959.  On those two days, the five cuts for KOB were recorded.

The innovation of KOB was the shift from constructing music based on chord progressions, to constructing melodies for long stretches from a single scale.  Oddly enough, although many members of the session incorporated modal concepts in their future work, Davis went off in another direction (something he was always doing).  But for the vast majority of listeners, this innovation meant nothing.  To them, "Kind of Blue" was simply a very seductive record, one even those with no jazz pretensions could enjoy.

For many collectors, this set will be one of many versions of the record they own.  I have an original 6 eye Columbia pressing, a Classic Records 33 1/3 rpm pressing, the Mosaic Records Complete Recordings Of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and a couple different CD versions.  This 45-rpm set comes on four one-sided records, which means one side of the record is smooth, with no grooves cut into it.  In theory, this allows a better interface between the vinyl and the turntable platter, especially with turntables employing a vacuum suction device, or tables that allow you to use a record clamp.  This new version sets the standard for dynamics and for creating a three-dimensional image of each musician.  Some audiophiles hear a better harmonic structure on the original Columbia pressings than on the 45-rpm version.  If there is a harmonic difference, for me the benefits of the 45-rpm set outweigh those differences.  If you are going to buy one jazz reissue this year, this must be at or near the top of your list.  Highest possible recommendation.

For reference, full track listing:    

1.  So What

2. Freddie Freeloader

3. Blue In Green

4. All Blues

5. Flamenco Sketches


- DD -


"Nature Boy"

Jackie McLean

Blue Note; 7243-5-23273-2-4

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Jackie McLean, playing alto sax, presents a record of ballads with Cedar Walton on piano, David Williams on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.   McLean is one of the giants of the saxophone, but his is not a name one would generally associate with ballads.  He is a bop player who experimented with free jazz.  Some will be disappointed with this music simply because McLean is playing ballads, and not something more avant-garde.  However, letting such preconceptions get in the way of your enjoyment of this disc will only rob you of one of this year’s best releases.

McLean’s alto sound, easily recognizable, is urgent and generally has an edge to it.   Here, he combines his distinct sound with a set of ballads, and it all comes together beautifully.  There is not a single cut on this album that is not a winner.  If I had to pick a favorite, I would go with the title cut -- Nature Boy.  McLean’s ever so slightly sharp edge seems to work perfectly with this melody.  The arrangement starts out straight, then segues into a bop/Latin development.  McLean is one of the greats who is still with us, performing at peak levels.  I saw him perform with Steve Lacy at Grace Cathedral last year.  He seems very young and full of life for his 68 years.

Another McLean set, which is well worth searching for, is the Mosaic Complete Blue Note 1964-66 Jackie McLean Sessions.  I have the vinyl set, although that sold out very quickly and now fetches high prices at auction.  If the compact disc set is still available, do not wait.  McLean’s records seem to have become particularly sought out these past few years.  If you have some old McLean Blue Notes, do not part with them without proper compensation!

The sound on this CD is as good as I have heard in the digital realm.  Jim Anderson, who seems to get more kudos for his jazz recordings than any other current recording engineer, produced it.  Each instrument is perfectly balanced with the others; each musician inhabits his own space in the stereo soundstage.

For reference, full track listing:

1. You Don’t Know What Love Is

2. Nature Boy

3. I Can’t Get Started With You

4. What Is This Thing Called Love

5.I Fall In Love Too Easily

6. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

7. Star Eyes

8. A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square


- DD -


"Sarah Vaughan"

Sarah Vaughan

Verve; 314-543-305-2

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This is a reissue of one of Vaughan’s unquestionable masterpieces.  Vaughan had one of the very best voices in the female jazz pantheon.  She was at her best at this 1954 session, and was surrounded by a top group of musicians, including Clifford Brown on trumpet, Herbie Mann on flute, Paul Quinichette on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Jones on piano, Joe Benjamin on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums.  Ernie Wilkins arranged the music and conducted. 

For anyone who has not discovered Sarah Vaughan, this is the perfect place to start.  Next up should be any of her other Emarcy recordings, especially "In The Land of Hi-Fi".  Much of her recorded output from the 1950’s included unfortunate pop tunes in an effort to capture the crossover market.  However, Sarah Vaughan In Hi-Fi, a 1953 Columbia release, is on a high plane similar to this Emarcy.  Her much later recordings on Pablo are also worth exploring, especially "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and "Crazy And Mixed Up".  For something different and yet quite wonderful, pick up "Gershwin Live!", where Vaughan sings with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting

The sound of this CD is excellent.  Emarcy Records did a generally fine job of recording, and this transfer is faithful.  The packaging is a foldout cardboard display with a booklet insert, providing space for original and reissue notes, as well as a reproduction of the original album jacket and session photographs.

For reference, full track listings:

1. Lullaby of Birdland

2. April in Paris

3. He’s My Guy

4. Jim

5. You’re Not the Kind

6. Embraceable You

7. I’m Glad There Is You

8. September Song

9. It’s Crazy

10. Lullaby of Birdland (alternate take)


 - DD -

Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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