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Miles Davis - Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival Print E-mail
Monday, 01 October 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    7
sound:    7
released:    2007
label:    Monterey Jazz Festival Records
reviewer:    Scott Yanow

ImageIn early 1963 Miles Davis was at one of the crossroads of his musical life. The trumpeter had led a classic quintet during 1955-56 comprised of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. By 1958 the group was a super sextet with the addition of Cannonball Adderley on alto, with Bill Evans succeeding Garland. In 1960 the group was a quintet again with Coltrane and a magnificently swinging rhythm section comprised of Chambers, pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Jimmy Cobb. But after Coltrane’s departure later that year, the innovations seemed to stop. For two years Davis had the same rhythm section with different saxophonists (most notably Hank Mobley) but seemed to be coasting. His repertoire stayed the same and though he was playing well, a certain predictability had set in. When the rhythm section departed to become the Wynton Kelly Trio in late 1962, the trumpeter was without a band altogether and some even talked about him retiring.

Retiring would have been a ridiculous idea, particularly since Davis was still just 36. Instead, he took his time and gradually formed a new quintet. The most important new member was 17-year old drummer Tony Williams, a dynamo who combined aspects of Elvin Jones, Max Roach and Art Blakey to form his own fresh style. With tenor saxophonist George Coleman, pianist Herbie Hancock and bassist Ron Carter, Davis had a potentially major band. They toured Europe where they recorded Miles Davis In Europe, and on Sept. 20, 1963 they made one of their first appearances in the United States during Davis’ debut at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The recently formed Monterey Jazz Festival Records label is issuing previously unreleased performances from the festival, so for the first time those who weren’t there can now hear this Miles Davis set. The quintet digs into a medium-tempo “Autumn Leaves,” rips into “So What,” plays “Stella By Starlight” as a lyrical ballad, and romps on the uptempo blues “Walkin’” before going out with a brief version of “The Theme.” The four main selections clock in between 11:20 and 14:35. Davis’ trumpet chops are in excellent form, George Coleman’s muscular tenor fits perfectly into the advanced hard bop format, and Herbie Hancock, while sometimes hinting at Bill Evans, was quickly developing his own voice. Ron Carter’s bass work on the uptempo pieces sounds tireless. In addition, he takes a rare bowed bass solo (a la Paul Chambers) on “Autumn Leaves.”

However, next to Davis, the real star is Tony Williams. Already he sounds unlike anyone else, as can be heard during his solo on “Walkin’.” He was responsible for the trumpeter hiring Hancock and a year later would help push George Coleman out of the band in favor of Wayne Shorter, who not only had his own logic in his highly original solos but was a major composer.

But that was in the future. In comparison, the music that Miles Davis and his quintet performed at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival is a bit conservative, but the solos are excellent and the music contains intriguing hints of what was to come.

For a live concert from 1963, particularly one that took place outdoors, the recording quality is better than expected. Recorded by Wally Heider and then kept in the vaults for 44 years, the music sounds fresh, lively, well-balanced and timeless. And one can hear exactly what Tony Williams is doing behind the other players.

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