Music Review: Miles Davis - At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4

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The jazz goldmine that is the Miles Davis Bootleg Series continues onward with the release of Sony Legacy's four-disc collection, Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4. We're treated to eight Newport Jazz Festival performances spanning a 20-year period. Most of this live material was previously unreleased, though it should be noted that Davis collectors will already have some of the tracks found on discs one and three in their collections. That said, even the repeated tunes work well within the greater context of the two-decade narrative charting Davis' legendary performances at the venerable Newport Fest.

Simply put, this is the kind of set in which a listener can lose themselves four hours. Over the course of 40 tracks, we get a healthy sampler of the sheer scope of Davis' artistry. The first disc gets off to a rollicking start with the "All-Star Jam Session" from July 17, 1955. This historic set marked Davis' first appearance at Newport. An eight-minute jaunt through Thelonious Monk's "Hackensack" was previously available on the 2004 Happy Birthday Newport! 50 Swinging Years release, but the other cuts are just now seeing the light of day on an official release thanks to an analog master tape supplied by The United States Library of Congress. Monk himself played piano for the session, which also featured the saxes of Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan. We get "'Round Midnight" and a scintillating take on Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time."

The rest of disc one won't be revelatory to anyone already in possession of the Miles & Monk at Newport (1964) and Miles Davis at Newport (2001) albums. The entirety of the July 3, 1958 performance has been available on those two older releases. But it is, of course, a vitally important performance and more than earns its inclusion here, with Davis fronting the sextet that would record Kind of Blue the following year (Cannnonball Adderley, alto sax; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums). Voice of America broadcaster Willis Conover delivers the two-minute spoken introduction that precedes the classic six-tune set.

Getting to the Second Great Quintet (Wayne Shorter, tenor sax; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Tony Williams, drums), the third disc is all newly-released material culled from "the collection of the Producers" of this compilation (according to the liner notes). First up is the July 4, 1966 set, a series of high points that begins with Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy," heats up further with a stunning ten-minute "All Blues," and just seems to intensify from there on. The second half of disc three is the July 2, 1967 set with the same band. The opener and closer are the same as the previous year ("Gingerbread Boy" and "The Theme"), but the middle of the set is made up of Shorter's immortal "Footprints," Monk's "'Round Midnight" (a take which contrasts marvelously with the Monk-led version from '55 on disc one), and another Second Quintet interpretation of a Kind of Blue classic, "So What." These shows were previously unreleased.

The first three tracks on disc three, the July 5, 1969 performance, have been available since 2011 on Bitches Brew Live. To maintain chronology, we jump to the fourth disc for the previously unreleased October 22, 1971 performance from the Newport Jazz Festival in Europe. The seven cuts here come from the first of two concerts by Davis that night (completists may very well wonder where the second of the two shows is). This performance, notes the liner notes, was moved to the fourth disc in order to present the lengthy set without interruption. It's a deliriously inventive set, climaxed by a nearly 26-minute rendition of "Funky Tonk." Davis' funk has a nearly sinister edge to it and, after several minutes of atmospheric percussion, this tune kicks in with a restless, exploratory groove. The ensemble, which includes keyboardist Keith Jarrett, seems to be connecting on some psychic level. Sax player Gary Bartz, who contributes both alto and soprano work, nearly steals the spotlight from the bandleader on numerous occasions with his screaming, churning lines.

Back to disc three, we hear the other (along with the '71 performance) most stunning performance of the compilation: The Newport Jazz Festival in Europe, Novermber 1, 1970 concert in Berlin. Dave Liebman on soprano & tenor saxes (plus flute), Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey on guitar, Michael Henderson on electric bass, Al Foster on drums, and James Mtume Forman on percussion combine with Davis for a ferocious set. "Turnaroundphrase," "Ife," and "Untitled Original" are outright smoking examples of prime electrified Miles Davis. The final track on disc three, a seven-minute "Mtume," comes from a July 1, 1975 performance by what amounts to the same band (with the exception of Sam Morrison on tenor rather than Dave Liebman).

Music writer and historian Ashley Kahn contributed the liner notes, with an essay for every year represented on Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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