Thursday, July 13, 2006

Miles unplugged

Disk 19 of "The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux," Columbia, which I reached over the weekend, is the same as the single CD "Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux," wherein Quincy Jones assembled two big bands, including the Gil Evans Orchestra, for the occasion and convinced Miles to do what he said he wouldn't ... revisit his old stuff, from "Birth of the Cool" to "Sketches of Spain."

Less than three months from death, Miles Davis still had it, even figuring that the power trumpet parts I hear are carried by Benny Bailey and Wallace Roney, who were there to help out. The big bands conducted by Jones and playing Evans' classic arrangements for Davis are outstanding. But the guy who really stands out is saxophonist Kenny Garrett, a regular in Davis' electric groups at the time, where he also excels based on the "Montreux" disks I've listened to previously.

Miles Davis always resented the excess of attention Chet Baker received. At least he could take comfort, if cold, that he was playing a heck of a lot better than Chet at the end.

I bought the box set for the breadth of coverage it offers of live performances of Davis' constantly changing electric music over more than 20 years, but I'm happy to have this nod to his past as part of the package. In fact, I haven't been less than happy with any of the disks in the set. Songs are repeated from disk to disk, as is natural in any "complete" box. Generally, I don't think that's as big a drawback in jazz, where versions tend to differ with some significance from one to another. But in the "Montreux" box, the repeats are more or less in title only. They're like whole new songs from performance to performance. One disk to go .. then I'm listening again.

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