Thursday, August 30, 2007

Miles Davis - Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (MJFP/Concord, 2007)

Recorded on September 22, 1963 this concert found trumpeter Miles Davis on the cusp of another evolution in his ever changing career, one that would bring about music that had a lasting impact on the jazz landscape. Four-fifths of what came to be called Miles "second great quintet" are on hand and the odd man out, tenor saxophonist George Coleman was no slouch himself. Davis sounds re-invigorated by the young-bloods recently added to his band: pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and especially drummer Tony Williams whose energy and unstoppable drive would be a hallmark of Davis' music for the next five years. After a solid mid-tempo warm-up on the standard "Autumn Leaves", the band really hits its stride with the Davis composition "So What", taken at a howling tempo driven on by Williams' drumming. Both he and Davis sound great and in full command. Coleman keeps up the pace with a cruising tenor solo, but it's the unmerciful drumming that pulls your ear again and again. A lengthy "Stella By Starlight" calms things back down, Davis was the master of the ballad and his smearing notes of stark, mournful sound with each note piercing like a dagger is something to behold. He moves directly into a bruising fast "Walkin'" playing some electrifying trumpet before making way for an extraordinary Williams solo. He (Williams) inspires the whole band to some superb soloing (great bowed bass from Ron Carter!) and seems ready to levitate off his stool from the excitement. Although the entire band sounds very good, it's Tony Williams that really stands out and makes this disc worthwhile. It seems impossible that he was less still two months shy of his eighteenth birthday when this concert took place. Certainly an auspicious beginning for a group that would come to redefine small group jazz. The sound quality is solid for live music of this vintage and there is a very good liner essay from Bob Belden. But the music, particularly the extraordinary interplay between Davis and Williams make this the pick of the first batch of Monterey recordings.

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