Oct 11, 2017

Collecting Miles Davis Vinyl Records

You might be pleasantly surprised to find out that because of Miles Davis' popularity,  a ready supply of vintage vinyl is still out there for you to enjoy.

You won't have to use your rent money either to add good stuff to your own collection.

Even the rarest of rare 50's Prestige copies aren't completely out of hand price wise.

 You can still as of the date of this post get most of them for less $1000 in mint condition, and nice play copies graded very good (VG) for half price or better than its mint counterpart.

The real deal is in the Mass produced Columbia vinyl, you can get a 1st press of Kind of Blue easily for less than 100 bucks. Porgy & Bess, Milestones, and Sketches of Spain for a little less.

 As you move through the Davis catalog the prices get cheaper of course, with the great 60's quintet albums like E S P,  and Miles Smiles, found for 20 bucks all the time. The fusion albums of the late 60's like Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson can be had at
similar prices.

The quadraphonic mix copies will set back a bit more. One exception price wise are some of the Japan only releases like Black Beauty and Dark Magus, these particular copies can set you back over $100.

I know because I needed Dark Magus to complete my Columbia collection of 1st press Miles LP's. So as it turned out, being passionate about Miles did not hurt my pocket all that much, especially once I realized most first press Blue Notes would be completely out of my league.

 There is no shame either in running down lesser condition vinyl, records graded VG+ or VG can still sound very good, especially the 70's rock and funk jazz albums.






Apr 17, 2017

Miles Davis Bitches Brew: Which Format Sounds Best?


Takes many listens for Bitches Brew to make sense


By 1970 Miles Davis was a house hold name, and had been such for more than 10 years, Davis had all ready changed jazz at least 4 times before, but nothing could prepare the jazz establishment for this.

A dark brooding double album of in your face "I don't care what you critics think" music. A brand of music that shook off the jazz tradition, grabbed what it needed from the rock, and the avant-garde, BUT could not be easily classified in ANY genre terms.

I remember the first time I heard Bitches Brew, I was completely in awe. I had only recently discovered modern jazz back in the mid-90's, bassist producer Bill Laswell came out with an electric period re-mix album of Davis jazz rock; I don't think even one Bitches Brew track shows up on there, But Panthalassa wet my appetite for more electric Miles.

 Bitches Brew though, was the point where any preconceived notions I had about Miles Davis being just a straight ahead jazz musician were shattered forever.

Quadraphonic LP, Columbia 2 EYE Pressings, or Current Reissues? What about CD's and Downloads?

After I became such a modern jazz and jazz rock fan, I began collecting vinyl in the mid 2000's, nothing quite like finding these treasures and hearing them in the format they were intended. The huge 12 inch art work, by comparison makes CD's seem pointless.

Vinyl's warm analog sound can also make the CD's digital compression, and brightness sound like garbage when comparing vintage recordings, things have improved in that regard. Though I do listen to CD's and Downloads along with vinyl, I am not a snob, I just prefer vinyl in most cases.

For the purposes of this post, I thought it might be interesting to listen consecutively to all my vinyl copies of Bitches Brew and give a report on which is the best sounding.

 I have listened to each of these a few times each at least, with the Quad pressing easily being my favorite, but honestly I was surprised at the results paying close attention:

Quad Vinyl Bitches Brew

The quadraphonic pressing has been my favorite overall as I mentioned, even without the vintage equipment, "as long as the pressing says QS or SQ and not CD4, you do not need a quad decoder". I was startled at how the trumpet really had some echo added, and the bass seemed much punchier.

I really like the quad mix, the sound stage seem to open up to really fill your room, Some have complained that the high-end can get a bit bright. I think they are confused, because the bass is crisp and not as muddy as the regular stereo mix.

1970 Columbia 2 Eye, 12 Sides of Miles, and 40th Anniversary Box

Honestly the Columbia 2 eye vintage copy and the (12 Sides of Miles Box) set sounded about the same, pretty good, but not like the Quad pressing.

The biggest surprise here is the 40th anniversary box set vinyl copy, I had only listened to it once, but was impressed, the second time around had me thinking, "Man I think I prefer this over the vintage 2 eye copy".

I hate to say it, knowing that the quad pressing is sort of not authentic in how it was meant to sound, "My Hypothesis", I think I might recommend the 40th Anniversary box as the way to get this music.

The bass on the 40th set's vinyl is deep and crisp, not too muddy, and crystal clear, no complaints at all. I realize you don't get any little odd studio quirks like on the quad pressing. But hell you can get this 40th set cheaper than a quad pressing, and you get it on CD, a DVD concert, and a nice book and bonuses.

Quadraphonic Sampler with Miles Runs the Voodoo Down


I also added the quad sampler if you noticed, "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" is on that sampler, and WOW, this was a shock, I found that record in a .99 cent bin at a local Cincinnati Ohio record shop, the cover's beat, but vinyl is near mint.

This sampler quad copy's Voodoo, sounds nothing like the full album pressing I have, This is has a seriously different echo and effects on the trumpet to my ears, the bass is fatter toned too. I wonder why the sound difference?

You can get a quad pressing of Bitches Brew in the $50-$100 range, and an original vintage copy, for less than $50 in near mint condition. The 40th Anniversary box will run you about 50 bucks as well, shop around, you can get a deal.

By the way: If you'd like to read some more thoughts about Miles Davis and his Jazz Rock, this article would be great place to start.


Mar 22, 2017

Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi Band: Funky Jazz Rock Fusion at Its Best

Perhaps Hancock's most groundbreaking music?

Herbie Hancock is a legend, no real scoop in that statement, huh? The Pianist has been a part of all the ground breaking developments in Jazz for better than 50 years.

First on his own for Blue Note, then as part of the second great quintet of Miles Davis.

 While a part of that legendary group, he released some of the all time classics of jazz for that very same Blue Note label, Maiden Voyage and Empyrean Isles to name a few.

Then When Miles had his restless spirit get the better of him, Herbie participated in the landmark jazz rock albums, In a Silent way and Bitches Brew.

By the end of 1969 Herbie needed to get his own experimental band together, that band, Mwandishi Created some of the most fully realized experimental jazz rock of the last 40 years. You can learn a whole lot more via the Bob Gluck Mwandishi band book that's pictured to the left.

Three experimental albums under the Mwandishi name:

 

Only 3 albums spread across two labels for this band: Mwandishi and Crossings for Warner Brothers, and Sextant for Columbia. Mwandishi, a Swahili name that Herbie adopted; along with the other members of the band, Bassist Mchezaji / Buster Williams, Drummer Jabali / Billy Hart, trumpeter Mganga / Eddie Henderson, saxophonist Mwile / Bennie Maupin, and Saxophonist Ndugu / Leon Chancler.

This Mwandishi band was Smokin' Hot, laying down some of the wildest electro funky space jazz ever recorded. The music is not as funky in a commercial sense, like the Headhunters bands were. The music was Wide open Like Bitches Brew, and could be as ethereal as In a Silent Way.

In some spots this music is quite open to free jazz, just a bubbling cauldron of music that still sounds modern and contemporary today; if you like challenging music and have open ears, please do yourself a favor and judge for yourself .

Mwandishi:

 

Mwandishi was recorded almost entirely at Rudy Van Gelder studios in Englewood New Jersey. Recorded in December of 1969.

The 21 minute Wondering Spirit Song, a Julian Priester composition, and the center piece of the album is roller coaster ride of a tune.

It ebbs and flows, building up tension and then releasing it, the track reminds me of Miles Davis's In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Some very avant-garde leanings also on this track.

Ostinato, a 15/8 rhythm, and the most overtly funky track on the album, and "You'll Know When you Get There", an ethereal Hancock composition that shows off the ballad voicing of Herbie to a tee.

Crossings:

 

Crossings, released in May of 1972 is the album where Dr. Patrick Gleeson is brought on board with his Moog Synthesizer. Herbie initially just wanted Gleason to set up the Moog for him to play.

Herbie was extremely impressed with Gleason, so Herbie directed Gleason to do the overdubs, and he joined the band as member.

The 25 minute "Sleeping giant" is the centerpiece of this album. "Sleeping Giant" points toward the Headhunters Band, with it's monster funk grooves.

Herbie's Fender Rhodes piano is all over the map on this track, "Sleeping Giant" is my favorite Mwandishi Band track. "Quasar" and "Water Torture", are full of Gleason's wild effects.

These two tracks are the most free and experimental of anything they did in my opinion. I dare say this track is as good as anything Miles Did in the 70's, and Eddie Henderson on trumpet does his bet Miles' fusion style playing of his career.

Sextant:

 

While not a Mwandishi band album proper, the sound and feel of the music do seem to carry over to the new label.

Sextant released in 1973 was Herbie's first recording for Columbia Records, a very similar album to Crossings, all be it, more in line with Sleeping Giant, with a definite look toward the funk commercialism to come.

This time Gleason uses an Arp synthesizer instead of the Moog. Hornets is the epic this time, with a real African element, a brutal vibe, then a beautiful vibe, all most at the same time.

A real dark modal track, reaches for the future but also reaches back to miles, ala' In a Silent Way. This albums seems a bit uneven to me. It's still great, but it feels like a transition album, as it turns out, it was.

The band was stripped down to a quartet. Herbie was only one album away from commercial super stardom with Headhunters.




Images used with permission via Amazon.com

Dec 27, 2016

It's About That Time: Wayne Shorter's Last Gig With Miles, March 7, 1970

Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970): It's About That Time is an album that was finally released in 2001.

This particular concert was also the final concert that Wayne Shorter performed with Miles Davis. Soon after, Wayne would join Joe Zawinul to form Weather Report.

This concert is very raw and on edge, Chick Corea has a sound on electric piano that is unlike anything I can ever remember.

 Hearing heavy distortion either mars or enhances the music, depending on your tolerance for rough around the edges recordings.

One thing about this recording that surprises me, it sounds like Corea and Holland may have finally gotten to Miles, I don't think I can recall any of his music ever quite getting this avant-garde?

I am telling you this, you have some real over the top cacophony in spots. Some will snicker at this of course, man I wish more of these concerts would be released.

 Just to hear something like "It's About That Time" that challenges your sensibilities for what you thought Miles was all about during this time period has been a real joy to absorb.

Compare this recording to the band with Keith Jarrett: Those Cellar Door sessions sound all together different than this March 1970 recording, Did Miles know this was Wayne's last gig?

Reportedly a March 6th show was also taped that has not been released, it was available at Wolfgang's Vault, much of this live music is heard on Bitches Brew,  which hadn't been released at the time of these recordings..

I don't want to overstate it, but It's About That Time might be a tough listen for those newly initiated. If you like being challenged, you must give this a shot. All of Miles Electric period is well worth hearing if you have open ears.

Dec 19, 2016

The Best Classic Modern Jazz Compositions For the New Listener


Modern jazz is a music that can have so many diverse meanings.

Amazingly the music almost mirrors the musical personality of Miles Davis himself.

It is incredible when you think about it, if you only listened to the music of Miles Davis alone, you would be exposed to nearly every form of the music since World War II.

 Bop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, large band orchestrated jazz, post bop, free bop, jazz rock, jazz funk, and even a few music forms that barely even resemble jazz that have gone on to influence so many diverse musicians of different styles, you can't hope to name them all.

I make no apologies for including 4 Davis tunes within this list of my favorite 10, the surprise might be the fact tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter has two of his own compositions on my list, one with Davis, and one as a leader.

This list is really just a personal list, not meant to slight any artist or genre. I have been seriously into jazz for about 20 years now, and these tunes were the ones that affected me early on in the infancy of my love for jazz.

These 10 compositions are drawn from absolute classic albums that must be heard in their entirety. I guarantee you this, if you're just getting into modern jazz, you would have a great ten albums to start with. Don't worry, no free jazz or avant-garde to wade through here, those sub-genres may very well peak your interest down the line though. So let us begin...

Miles Davis: "Footprints"

Footprints, a Wayne Shorter composition that was recorded both on Miles Smiles as well as Shorter's own Adam's Apple. Shorter sure could make a simple melody seem mysterious and complex.

It has been said that Miles created at least one "perfect" album within every style he was a part of: Birth of the Cool and Cookin' from the early 50's, and Kind of Blue, and Porgy & Bess from the late 50's. Miles Smiles is the perfect album from the second great quintet in my opinion.



Lee Morgan: "The Sidewinder"

The Sidewinder is the quintessential Blue Note Records recording. A danceable Bogaloo, with the fiery hot trumpet work of Lee Morgan.

Hard to find fault with the entire vibe. Morgan captures the Blue Note sound perfectly, the entire album is stellar. If you can find an original mono vinyl copy, your mind will be blown at the sound of this record.





Buddy Rich "Channel 1 Suite"

"Channel 1 Suite" from the album Mercy Mercy is a Bill Reddie composition that is a tour de force of big band power. Buddy Rich delivers a powerful performance as usual, his solo on Chanel 1 suite is worth the price of the album.

Outside of Tony Williams, If there ever was a better technical drummer than Buddy Rich I haven't found them. Any of Buddy's 60's albums are killer and have the same in your face style as Chanel 1 Suite.




Thelonious Monk: "Round Midnight" via Miles Davis


This Thelonious Monk tune is an all time classic. This version from the album billed as 'Round about Midnight, Is one of the greatest themes in Jazz history. Miles Davis is able to play this romantic theme in a way they strips it bare. Every last ounce of pretentiousness is gone.

Monk's own original, and the live at the Five Spot version with Johnny Griffin should also be heard, but Miles' Round About Midnight is stunningly perfect to my ears.





Don Ellis: "Indian Lady"

This Don Ellis Orchestra recording from the album Electric Bath is a fine example of Indian poly-rhythms on top of unorthodox time signatures.

Ellis has always been underrated, he composed the Oscar nominated film score for The French Connection. His early death in 1978 is probably why you never hear him mentioned in most people all time lists.

No body had a better big band in the late 60's and early 70's than Don Ellis.




Miles Davis: "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down"

Miles Runs the Voodoo Down is one of the signature songs from Miles Davis During his Electric Period, a classic funk bass line, with some of Miles' most muscular trumpet Dais ever recorded.

Miles jabs like a prize fighter, Bending notes, trills and punctuation. The track sort of runs out of steam at the 11 minute mark, But as a whole, Miles Runs the Voodoo Down is spectacular. Why is it, the elitist jazz critic of the period could never come to understand this jazz rock classic?






Wayne Shorter: "Witch Hunt"


Witch Hunt from the Wayne Shorter album Speak No Evil Is a very important composition and album. Practically every modern jazz album released since has been influenced by Speak No Evil.

Certainly every saxophonist has had to deal with Wayne Shorter and his music. The composition has such a smooth simple melody, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard is also on top of his game throughout Speak No Evil.





Charles Mingus: "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"


"Good Bye Pork Pie Hat", a tribute to the then recently departed Tenor Saxophonist Lester Young, a beautiful mournful ballad, that does manage to capture the essence of Lester Young.

Mingus Ah Um is a riotous album at times, but this ballad provides the perfect relief from the hard edges of Mingus' madness. You really can sense the presence of Lester Young within the composition.





John Coltrane: "Acknowledgement"

For some reason when I listen to Acknowledgement, I envision a beautiful sunset, oranges and yellows come into my head? Acknowledgement comes from the John Coltrane masterpiece A Love Supreme.

The solo is incredible, and the unusual Chanting at the end a - love-su-preme, a- love-su-preme, closes the track out in style. A Love Supreme is the second best selling modern jazz record of all-time.



Miles Davis "So What"

"So What" from Kind of Blue may be the best composition of any form of music, I love the bass Intro with the orchestrated touches. Then the Bass setting up the theme, the track just flows so naturally.

The Bill Evans Piano, and the Saxophone solos By Coltrane and Adderley are some of their best on record. The entire album Kind of Blue just sounds like a walk down 52nd Street In New York City 1959.




Don't let jazz, or instrumental music intimidate you


If you're are new to this type of instrumental modern jazz, and have a hard time following music without lyrics, try this: Listen to the rhythm section of bass, drums, and piano, or sometimes Guitar with, or instead of piano.

Anyway, let the rhythm section be the foundation for your ears, feel the rhythm, sense its presence without focusing on the individual instruments.

You can of course focus individually if you want, but I have always felt that feeling the beat, or the vibe of the bass, drums, and piano will allow you to focus on the picture painters, the trumpet, saxophone, or when the rhythm instruments solo.

In fact, down the road if you grasp this concept, a band like The Bill Evans piano trio will blow you're mind, where anything can happen, and usually does in regards to time keeping and soloing. Who's doing what, shifts so much, that rhythm and improvisation are almost interchangeable...

If you are new to jazz below are several fantastic box sets you may find well worth your time if you have an interest in becoming familiar with Post WWII jazz in particular.














Dec 18, 2016

Miles Davis Big Fun: Double Slabs of Droning Jazz Rock

 Big Fun indeed: Miles was so ahead of the curve, these outtakes were from sessions released from 1969 and 1972, and not released until 1974.

Big Fun was barely noticed at the time, 26 years later the digital remaster was released on CD.
Finally I think enough time has passed to give this music the needed space to catch up with the rest of the world's recorded music.

So many things of note within the Electric music of Miles Davis: Producer Teo Macero's Production techniques were way ahead of their time.

 The overall combination of Indian instruments with rock and funk, must have seemed bizarre even for jazz rock? There is no point denying how imperfect Big Fun is, at times it does feel thrown together like some cosmic stew of international sounds.

Big Fun has an interesting production technique from producer Teo Macero, who seems completely thrilled with just trying out every new gizmo and gadget Columbia Records could dream up in the studio.

Oh how fun this time period must have been, how exciting to create and break new ground on the fly like Miles did during the 70's.


The most overtly funky track from Big Fun is "Ife", a repetitive bass drone track that sounds like could have been on the On the Corner album. The rest of the album to my ears sounds like Bitches Brew Outtakes. especially "Go Ahead John".

The first time I heard "Go Ahead John", it nearly drove me crazy. Teo Macero's channel switcher on Jack Dejohnette's drums all most ruined it for me. Years later I happened to give the track another shot, but this time without head phones.



The isolation of the headphones made the effect almost tortuous to me. "Go Ahead John" turns out to be a fantastic 27 minute long dirge. It also features only 5 musicians, Davis on trumpet, John McLaughlin on guitar, Steve Grossman on sax, Dave Holland on Bass, and Jack Dejohnette on drums.

Also it is worth noting that "Go Ahead John" has no keyboard of any kind, it also comes from the Jack Johnson recording sessions. It's hard for me to convey exact musical terminology, as I am not a formally trained musician, but I hear a lot of late 60's funky James Brown groovin' on this track.

It's obvious to me Miles Digs JB. When you listen to the Complete Jack Johnson sessions box you will be amazed at the hard funk and Hendrix style hard rock grooves being worked out.

By the time Miles found Guitarist Pete Cosey near the end of 1973, Miles had settled into voodoo funk groove based style that reminds me of this style a bit. Well, at least I can hear Miles' process here. It is a matter of personal interpretation though.

I have been dissecting this music for over 15 years, and I am still completely amazed how many new things I hear and how the discovery of new stuff seems to never end. Many Times I will put Big Fun on as back ground music, much of this music is good like that as well.

Dec 16, 2016

Miles Davis "Call it Anything" From the Isle of Wight 1970

Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea playing piano in the same band?

 Then you throw in Dave Holland on bass, and Jack De Johnette on drums, pretty hot band huh?

For me, this music documented on vinyl "pictured" as well as the DVD video performance available now as:
 
"Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue"

 It's one of the best live documents out there of electric Miles.

The Aug. 29th 1970 show at the Isle of Wight Festival is a cookin' show, everything seems to run on all cylinders. Jarrett and Corea are both inventive, and somehow are making real music come out of these newly discovered toys.

As a long time Miles Electric music fan, I do endorse this Isle of Wight show on DVD. I like having it in audio form too, but the atmosphere is so good and the extra interviews are very nice, as well as the thick liner notes inside the DVD case.

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