Online since August 2002

Miles in Transition

Reviewed November 2007

Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival
Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival
By Miles Davis Quintet

Monterey Jazz Festival Records: 2007

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Legendary trumpeter/band leader Miles Davis started his professional jazz career at nineteen years of age playing with alto saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, one of the godfathers of bebop. Davis soon thereafter forged his own cool path on the classic "Birth of the Cool" recordings, helping shape the less frantic West Coast sound of jazz. Between the cool sound and the explosive birth of fusion – via his enormously popular "Bitches Brew" (Columbia Records, 1969) – Davis led two so-called classic quintets, the first in the mid-'50s, featuring Red Garland on piano, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Philly Joe Jones, drums, and Paul Chambers on bass. This group put out several albums that are considered classics today, sets like "Steamin'," "Workin'," "Relaxin'," and "Cookin'," all on Prestige Records.

The second classic quintet came about in late 1963, with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and the sixteen-year-old drum prodigy, Tony Williams. With this line-up, Davis took the ensemble away from the accepted chord change approach into a freer, modal attack, creating what, at the time, sounded a bit harsh and "out there" to the conventionally tuned ear. The innovation caught on, and hundreds of bands out there play in the mold that the second great quintet laid down on albums like "ESP" (Columbia, 1965) and "Miles Smiles" (Columbia, 1966).

In the time period between these two classic quintets – 1961-'63 – Davis is said to have been in transition. As the members of the second quintet came on board, Davis tried out several different saxophonists – Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, George Coleman and Sam Rivers. "Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival" captures Miles transition band in concert, with George Coleman on tenor saxophone.

The group plays five songs that had been in Miles' repertoire since the '50s, opening with the American Songbook chestnut, "Autumn Leaves." Miles cries into the familiar melody on his muted horn, keeping things recognizable at first. But this is much different from the Miles Davis approach on the tune earlier in his recording career – much edgier, veering further away from the melody's theme, stretching it to the limits. Coleman takes a quite adventurous solo after Miles – surprisingly, since he was reported replaced in the band by Wayne Shorter for being too traditional a player.

On the entire set the catalyst seems to be the young drummer, Williams. He was, at this point in his tenure, less explosive than he later became, but he pushes the band with his propulsive insistence, especially on "So What," reprised from Miles' classic "Kind of Blue" (Columbia Records, 1959) album. On this take, he and bassist Ron Carter crank the tempo up, pulling the tune into a frenetic pace, with Miles blowing, open horn, with a tangy, acidic urgency. On "Stella By Starlight," Mile sounds anguished in front of a relaxed rhythm, before Coleman comes in blowing with a beautifully robust tone.

The sound quality of the recording is good, not great, and the approach that Miles was searching for hadn't quite come together. "Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival" is probably not a good set for those new to Davis, but it's probably essential for long-time fans, and those who want to hear more from his under-appreciated transition period.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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