Seven Steps

COMPOSERS: Miles Davis
LABELS: Columbia Legacy
WORKS: Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-64
PERFORMER: Miles Davis
CATALOGUE NO: C7K 90840

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If one is to continue the analogy, then perhaps Miles Davis was the Wagner of jazz. Iconoclastic, perfectionist and with a vision all his own, he also championed new developments in musical instrument technology later in his career.

Like Wagner, his music comes in big boxes these days, with the latest in Sony’s shelf-bending collections gathering together the albums Seven Steps to Heaven, In Europe, My Funny Valentine, Four & More, In Tokyo and In Berlin, augmenting these with previously unissued performances.

This set takes as its theme the evolution of Davis’s quintet during the period, with the eventual line-up featuring saxophonist Wayne Shorter and the stellar rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, the latter joining the band as a teenage prodigy. With the exception of Carter, all were later to make their own careers in the rock-influenced territory that their leader opened up at the end of the decade.

Each of the albums included has been extensively documented elsewhere and coming as it does from the mid-point of his career this set is hardly beginners’ fare; but the Grammy-winning series as a whole is invaluable to collectors who have perhaps resisted replacing their worn-out vinyl thus far.

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Therein, however, lies the rub: by assembling all these recordings into one vast musical monolith – albeit most handsomely packaged as a chrome-spined album with cloth-bound slipcase – their individuality is inevitably eroded to a degree, much as the 70-plus-minute length of the CD did serious damage to the set-like length of the LP. These reservations apart, it’s a project beyond criticism.