New CDs: ‘Miles Davis Quintet - Live in Europe’; ‘Miles Espanol’

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If the sun rose this morning, then it must be time for a record label to take another run at repurposing the Miles Davis catalog. February saw the release of the bracing ‘Bitches Brew Live,’ which paired nicely with 2010’s sumptuous 40th anniversary set for the landmark album, and then there was last year’s massive ‘Complete Columbia Album’ collection.

And that doesn’t even count the staggering array of outtake-rich boxed sets and collections over the last 10 years from various albums, labels and eras (sometimes more than once). In short, Miles’ music is still as safe a bet for labels as archive releases for rock’s heritage artists such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and many more -- including Nirvana.


With that in mind, this month offers two distinct looks at Davis’ legacy, one a rewarding dip into the live vaults while the other uses the jazz legend’s music as a springboard into something more exotic.

The first, released Tuesday, is the beginning of a planned series of ‘Bootleg’ sets that includes three 1967 concerts by Davis’ vaunted ‘Second Great Quintet’: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. A DVD compiling two more European performances from the same period, previously only available on grainy YouTube clips and the pricey ‘Complete Recordings’ set, is also included.

Given the concerts happened just days apart, there’s a lot of overlap in the track listing with three distinct takes on ‘All Blues,’ ‘’Round Midnight’ and ‘Masqualero,’ which on the Antwerp performance gets reduced to its hushed essence between Hancock’s flickering piano and Williams’ insistent high-hat. The sound can be a little thin -- they’re called bootlegs, after all -- and inevitably the concerts can bleed together without careful listening if absorbed all at once. But the performances are uniformly remarkable, and for Davis completists who haven’t already gone broke investing in his catalog up to now, it’s arresting to hear this one-of-a-kind-band in its element.

A more surprising offshoot however is ‘Miles Español,’ due Sept. 27. Produced by Bob Belden, the collection is a sequel of sorts to 2008’s similar-in-spirit ‘Miles In India,’ which bridged the gap between Eastern and Western tradition. This two-disc set follows that collection’s lead in assembling an array of artists from different cultures and disciplines in search of something new in Davis’ catalog. Using ‘Sketches of Spain’ and ‘Kind of Blue’ more as touchstones than templates, a diverse cast that includes some of Davis’ former sidemen teamed with Spanish flamenco specialists and Latin jazz hands have created a hybrid that stands on its own while remaining tethered to Davis in spirit.

After a splendid transformation of ‘Sketches of Spain’s’ dramatic ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ into a maze of harp, guitar and hand percussion, ‘Just Three Miles’ detours into a noirish fusion of flamenco guitar, pattering congas and pinched trumpet from Tim Hagans. ‘Saeta/Pan Piper’ offers maybe the most rewarding bit of cross-pollination with guitar, twisting bagpipes and percussion merging with brass for something akin to a Latin jazz outtake from Peter Gabriel’s ‘Passion’ soundtrack.

Elsewhere Chick Corea’s bounding piano through ‘Trampolin’ and John Scofield’s slippery guitar in ‘El Swing’ touch the record down on more familar ground, but as a whole the music remains difficult to pin down, and more unfamiliar than you might expect. It’s the sort of end result that always remained close to Davis’ heart.



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Album review: Miles Davis, ‘Bitches Brew Live’

Miles Davis, the Columbia years, spans four decades of the trumpeter’s career

-- Chris Barton