Book ended by his two classic small groups of the 50s and 60s, it is no surprise that the period from 1960 to 1962 is considered no more than a minor footnote in a career that spanned five decades. But In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at The Blackhawk, Complete
shows off a different side to Miles Davis, and one that is worth revisiting.
Recorded over two nights in April, 1961, this new four-disk set (also available as two two-disk sets, each documenting one night’s performance) adds thirteen tracks and nearly one hundred minutes of additional music to the original two-LP (and 2-CD) set that was previously available. All seven sets over the course of the two evenings are presented in their entirety, impeccably remixed and remastered in 24-bit sound. The performances sparkle in a way previously unheard.
Featuring the inimitable rhythm section of Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums, this band was neither as overtly lyrical as the quintet that came before, nor as forward reaching as the one that came after. This rhythm section became so comfortable as a working unit that they ultimately left Miles’ employ, recording both as a trio and as a rhythm section for hire for such luminaries as Joe Henderson and Wes Montgomery.
Hank Mobley has often been considered a lightweight tenor player, especially compared to John Coltrane, whose shoes he had to fill, and Wayne Shorter, who ultimately replaced him after a couple of other interim saxophonists. Looking back on Mobley, however, shows a fine bop player with a less brittle tone than Coltrane, a fine sense of melody, and an ability to construct dynamic solos. Check out his solo on "On Green Dolphin Street", from the Saturday night performance, and you’ll hear a player at the top of his game.
One thing is certain: this band swings
harder than any that came before or after. Listen to "If I Were a Bell", the fast-paced version of "So What", or "Softly as a Morning Sunrise" from the Saturday night disks, marginally my favourite of the two evenings. This is a band that connected more with its audience than either of the great quintets did. Liner notes by Eddie Henderson help bring the dates alive, almost putting you in one of the chairs in the bar.
Pat Metheny has described some of his music as revolutionary, and some as evolutionary. This music fits more in the evolutionary category. No earth-shattering changes here, but more a consolidation, with Miles performing many of the standards that had been part of his repertoire for the past few years. But it was during this period that Miles’ playing evolved into the more extroverted and brash style that became his signature during the period of his second great quintet, from ’63 to ’68.
While the Saturday night sets engage me slightly more, the entire four-CD set is well worth the investment. In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, Complete
is a last chance to hear Miles relax and just swing, before the more revolutionary changes that were to come a mere two years later.