All of the material here was recorded by Miles Davis for Prestige between 1953 and 1956. After initially recording some Prestige dates in 1951, Davis cut two recordings for Blue Note in ’53, then rejoined Prestige, where he recorded the session that closes this disc in May of 1953. “When Lights Are Low” features Davis with John Lewis and Percy Heath, and Max Roach on drums. Already Davis is looking for ways to economize, to only say what is necessary to say. That can also be heard on the April, 1954 recording of “I’ll Remember April” featuring a muted Davis playing with alto sax player Davey Schildkraut, pianist Horace Silver, bassist Heath, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Both of these tracks can be heard on the Prestige album Blue Haze, released in 1954.
In ’54, Davis kicked his heroin habit, as would future jazz superstars Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane at similar points in their careers. He recorded the landmark session that gave the world “Walkin’” , and released it under the moniker Miles Davis All Stars. The group featured the same rhythm section of Silver, Heath, and Clarke heard on “April” along with trombonist J.J. Johnson and tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson. The song allowed Davis to show his blues influences and roots, and his debt to trumpet player Clark Terry and others. In 1955 he recorded the album Bags Groove with Sonny Rollins, and three Rollins compositions are included on this CD (only two, “Doxy” and “Airegin” feature Rollins). Rollins’ bright tone and long lines broken up by rhythmic variations are a nice contrast to Miles’ relaxed trumpet work. It is well known that Miles was interested in having Rollins in his group, but Rollins, who had not yet kicked his own heroin habit, was not ready to join.
Instead, Davis ended up with John Coltrane in the quintet, which also included Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. Their output for Prestige has been collected into a box set recently released by Concord: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions. A previous 8-disc set, Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings features the quintet plus Miles’ other considerable work for the label. This disc barely scratches the surface, but it does allow one to hear some great Miles playing, and to understand why some consider this his greatest contribution to the development of jazz, despite all that he later did. The bonus disc is a trumpet player’s dream, with Chet Baker, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer, and Donald Byrd as well as Coltrane, Rollins, Red Garland, and the fantastic Gil Evans track “Jambangle” from Gil Evnas & Ten.