The second disc is a nice coupling of five sessions from the previous year, 1958, with the same group. These sessions have appeared through the years on a number of different recordings and were previously collected together on the 6 CD Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 in 2000. This Legacy Edition of Kind of Blue allows a cost-friendly format whereby these sessions could be coupled with the original 1959 Kind of Blue sessions.
The classic (an understatement if ever there was one) Miles Davis recording Kind of Blue has turned fifty, and the event is being celebrated by Columbia Legacy recordings with the release of Kind of Blue: Legacy Edition, a 2-CD affair that features the original album as well as a series of studio sequences, false starts, and alternative takes from the 1958-59 sessions, and a live version of “So What” recorded in Holland in 1960. While the package, the latest in the Legacy Edition series, is beautifully packaged, with an essay by Francis Davis and an additional .pdf file featuring an ‘enhanced digital booklet’ of notes and information embedded on Disc 1, there is not a lot here musically to add to the original recording. If there was ever an album where the music stands completely on its own, this one is it. On the other hand, if you are replacing an old CD or vinyl version of the album, this is a nice edition to own, with the second disc a nicely compacted version of the only other recordings released by the same group that recorded Kind of Blue.
Fortunately, on disc one, the entire original album is presented first in its complete format, followed by an alternate take of ‘Flamentco Sketches’ and the brief studio sequences from several other tracks. The studio sessions are interesting, shedding some light on the recording process and the musical thought processes of the musicians in interpreting these tunes, but they can seem a little like looking behind the curtain of something mystic that should not be seen. They do not in any way alter the amazing perfection of the original album. I think that one of the reason you hear people talking about the ‘perfection’ of Kind of Blue is that it is perfect in every moment in the Zen sense. That’s not to say the performances are perfect, nor the arrangements, nor any other element of the recording. But the overall moment, the time period between the beginning of “So What” and the last notes of “Flamenco Sketches” is perfect because every moment is perfect in itself and it creates a musical world that is always true to itself and which is endlessly fascinating. The musicians are all very much themselves, yet they all contribute toward the totality of this recording in very much equal ways.
Kind of Blue is a jazz album that has transcended the genre of jazz and become one of a handful of recordings whose very existence changes everything. That Miles Davis achieved this more than once in his career serves as evidence to even the most casual observer of jazz that he was one of its mystics, its visionaries. As pointed out by Ashley Kahn in the excellent book Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, “Copies of the album are passed to friends and given to lovers. The album has sold millions of copies around the world, making it the best-selling recording in Miles Davis’s catalog and the best-selling classic jazz album ever, as well as #12 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest LPs of All Time. Significantly, a large number of those copies were purchased in the past five years, and undoubtedly not just by old-timers replacing worn vinyl: Kind of Blue is even casting its spell on a younger audience more accustomed to the loud-and-fast esthetic of rock and rap.” The album is perenially hip, listened to by Clint Eastwood’s cool, brooding Secret Service agent in Line of Fire. It also casts a kind of Zen calmness, perhaps due in part to mythology and the enigmatic liner notes written by pianist Bill Evans.
The album doesn’t so much announce itself as kind of waft in on a cloud of Evans’ piano and Paul Chambers’ bass until Chambers locks onto the melody of So What, punctuated first by piano, then by the entire ensemble.
The piece is simply a modal setting offering 16 bars on one scale, 8 on a second, and returning to the first scale for the final 8. Davis solos first, sounding relaxed and setting a tone for the album with a solo that paints broad brushstrokes that nonetheless form a finished painting. Coltrane follows up with a solo that demonstrates he’s not far from the breatkthrough of Giant Steps–he sounds completely at home running modal scales and heating up the solo with rhythmic variations. Adderley, fresh from his triumph (with Davis) on his Somethin’ Else recording, manages to sound bluesy and funky even within the more abstract framework afforded by the changes here. Evans finishes off with a nice block-chord solo punctuated by horns.
‘Freddie Freeloader’ is a fairly straight-forward blues and allows the soloists to stretch out in a familiar form, each showing their individuality and mastery of their instrument. Evans is particularly good here, as is Coltrane. ‘Blue In Green’ brings us into ballad territory, with the familiar muted Davis trumpet sound presenting the gorgeous theme. Paul Chambers’ bass accompianment is especially beautiful and shows why the bass is so integral to this type of mood piece. ‘All Blues’ is described by Evans as “a series of five scales, each to be played as long as the soloist wishes until he has completed the series.”
If my descriptions of the solos and structure of the pieces sounds perfunctory and gives little of the flavor of the album, well that’s because really, the proof is in the hearing. Listening to this album will immerse you at once in a world that is dark, brooding, sophisticated, very cool, sexy, and languorous. Bottom line is: if you don’t have this record in your collection, you don’t have a collection. It’s the Sgt Pepper of jazz, really, good for relaxing, drinking, meditating, making love, and just plain listening. So get it–and dig it. Oh, and buy someone you love a copy.
The second disc is a nice coupling of five sessions from the previous year, 1958, with the same group. These sessions have appeared through the years on a number of different recordings and were previously collected together on the 6 CD Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 in 2000. This Legacy Edition of Kind of Blue allows a cost-friendly format whereby these sessions could be coupled with the original 1959 Kind of Blue sessions. This allows the listener to see that the Kind of Blue sessions were not mystical or something that was thought to be incredibly special at the time of the recordings. These musicians probably left the studio feeling that they had had a good session, but not that they had just recorded a jazz masterpiece. These 1958 sessions display all of the fantastic playing and a lot of the mood of the more famous 1959 sessions, but they do not have the single unified mood that makes Kind of Blue unique. Still, put together these tracks tend to create a kind of Kind of Blue minor, if you will.
The live version of “So What” is typical of Miles’ tendency to adapt tunes for live performances. It is taken at a quicker tempo than the Kind of Blue version, with no intro. Pianist Wynton Kelly provides bouncier piano work than Bill Evans’ more impressionistic background on the album version.