The Complete Columbia Recordings: Miles Davis & John Coltrane

COMPOSERS: Miles Davis & John Coltrane
LABELS: Columbia/Legacy
WORKS: The Complete Columbia Recordings
PERFORMER: Miles Davis (t), John Coltrane, Hank Mobley (ts), Cannonball Adderley (as), Red Garland, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly (p), Paul Chambers (b), Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb (d)
CATALOGUE NO: C6K 65833

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Most people who buy this magnificently annotated boxed set will probably already own the small-group masterpieces of this extraordinary and unique period in jazz – ’Round Midnight, Milestones and Kind of Blue, to name the main studio albums.

Each of them seems to have the unity of a suite, and the order of pieces is crucial to the artistic coherence of each album. But this current historical package presents the studio music in chronological order, complete with rejected takes, affording us a fascinating peep behind the scenes.

Rejected takes are like a composer’s notebooks, and offer us a glimpse of the creative process in action. Davis and Coltrane are two of the true jazz giants of the last century, and we can hear them becoming more and more themselves until eventually several of the magical and indelible performances are first takes.

Coltrane, four months younger than Davis, had done almost nothing of significance when he joined the quintet in September 1955, but the five albums they recorded for Prestige had hastened his development.

The quintet’s first album on Columbia (disc 1) was ’Round Midnight, recorded in October 1955 and June 1956 and there were alternative takes of virtually everything, because it was early days for the group and most of the material was unfamiliar.

Disc 2 includes a session with Leonard Bernstein, who wanted the quintet to play a cool version of ‘Sweet Sue’ for his album What Is Jazz? And we hear Davis discussing it with Bernstein and later commenting on a take. Davis also comments on one or two performances on other of the CDs and talks to Teo Macero in the control booth.

The personnel changes as the recordings proceed, with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones in the rhythm section and Cannonball Adderley brought in to make the group a sextet.

Then, after Milestones, Jimmy Cobb replaces Jones and Bill Evans replaces Garland. Evans said later: ‘I felt the group to be composed of superhumans,’ and there was, perhaps, something superhuman about the sheer originality of Davis and Coltrane.

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The latter was inventing a whole new vocabulary for the saxophone, and Davis was doing the same thing for the trumpet. Miles was in search of ultimate musical statements – the alternative take of ‘All of You’ is excellent, but the subsequent master is even more beautiful. This superb box-set enlarges our view of the musicians and the music.