Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Miles Davis - Relaxin' With the Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige, 1956)

When Miles Davis signed a lucrative contract with Columbia records, he still owed his former label, Prestige Records, four albums. He filled this obligation with two marathon recording sessions which were split into albums and released piecemeal later on. This is one of those records, and it was made with the band that became known as the First Great Quintet, with Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.
One of the most interesting aspects of this band was the contrast between the trumpeter's trim lines and the gushing music of the saxophonist. Where Davis tried to cut out all but the most essential in his solos, Coltrane seemed in a breathless rush to get it all in. These albums fascinate not only for the very high quality of the music, but the informal nature of the performances, on this occasion beginning with Davis growling at the producer before Garland's spare piano notes opens the album with "If I Were A Bell" then giving way to Davis's gentle and thoughtful reading of the melody. This has a mild middle tempo performance, as opposed to the up-tempo version of "Oleo", composed by Sonny Rollins with plenty of room for Coltrane to stretch out. But the focus of this album is on ballads, of which Davis was a master and his focused and unhurried renditions of "It Could Happen to You" and "You're My Everything" are highlights of this disc. This album and the others in the series: Cookin', Steamin' and Workin' are all classics of modern post bop and would influence legions of listeners and musicians for decades to come.

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