Friday, March 11, 2005

Miles Davis – Seven Steps: Complete Recordings 1963-64 (Sony, 2004)

All of the music on this set has been around the block several times since their initial releases as LP’s in the 1960’s and 70’s. Whereas the previous boxed sets in this series have focused on one particular band or album, this set follows the evolution of Davis’ group through an 18 month period during 1963 – 1964. This is the period after the first “classic” quintet which was anchored by John Coltrane, and when he was experimenting with a number of musicians looking for the right mix of talent.

The first couple of discs detail the studio sessions that would go into making up the Seven Steps to Heaven LP. Recorded on the west coast, these sessions featured Victor Feldman on piano and George Coleman on tenor saxophone. The group played a number of Feldman’s theme’s and some standards, including a beautiful version of “I Fall in Love Too Easily.”

The majority of the collection is made up of live material, recorded at a number of festivals and concerts as the Davis took the band on tour, trying different players and waiting for things to gel. Among these was the CORE benefit concert recorded in 1963 that was something of a scandal among the band when Davis donated the band’s fee for the performance without telling them. This concert was eventually released as the records “Four and More” and “My Funny Valentine.” In the case of this collection, the concert is returned to its original running order.

Two transitional European concerts are included, originally released as Miles in Europe which was recorded in Antibes, France with George Coleman in 1963 and the first recording of Wayne Shorter with the group are available in a concert that saw limited distribution on record, Miles in Berlin. Again, most of the material on these concerts is performed from Davis’ stock repertoire but each version has something different to offer and all are enjoyable.

The most interesting concert of the whole set (for me, anyway) was the concert that was released as Miles in Tokyo with Sam Rivers taking over for George Coleman on tenor saxophone. Rivers was recommended to Davis by Tony Williams and he had just been signed to Blue Note Records. Rivers’ avant-garde influenced tone was a little too strident for Miles, who elected to let him go after the tour of Japan. Regardless, it’s a fascinating concert as the explosive Rivers and the young rhythm section subject Davis’ standards to a thorough airing out.

Overall, this set is quite interesting and valuable as it tracks the evolution of the Miles Davis sound during a period where he was consolidating his advances he made during the 1950’s and looking forward to the pace setting group of the mid 1960’s. The booklet and discographical material included with the package is well done with extensive notes and photographs.

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