With THE SOOTHSAYER, Wayne Shorter fronts a large ensemble for the first time in his solo endeavors. Like his previous sessions, Shorter's assorted guests are drawn from the most notable groups of the time. McCoy Tyner from Coltrane's quartet, rhythm-mates Ron Carter and Tony Williams from Shorter's employer Miles Davis, and Freddie Hubbard who shared horn duties with the saxophonist in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers are all present, producing a huge sound lead by Shorter's artistic vision.
A dynamic front line of Davis, trombonist J.J. Johnson and the bassist's brother Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone, gives each tune big band weight and texture. J.J. Johnson's lilting "Kelo" and tragic "Enigma" proceed from the orchestral tradition of BIRTH OF THE COOL, and his taut velvety tenor trombone counterpoint contrasts nicely with Davis' burnished midrange and brassy cry. Tenor man Jimmy Heath seems to take the Basie and Gillespie big bands as the jumping off point for his jazz classic "C.T.A.," and ends his own solo with an affectionate nod to Lester Young.
Miles' ballad turn on "I Waited For You" is one of his most alluring performances, while his effortless swing on "C.T.A." and "Ray's Idea" sums up his innovations in blues phrasing. But his solo and arrangement on "Tempus Fugit" are simply transcendent. This Bud Powell anthem for modernists generates a challenging set of symphonic variations, driven along by the emotional intensity of Art Blakey. The joy with which Miles and Blakey morph between swing and Afro-Cuban rhythms, blues and bop phrasing, is what jazz is all about.
Miles Davis' recordings of 1951-1954 tend to be overlooked because of his erratic lifestyle of the period and because they predated his first classic quintet. Although he rarely recorded during this era, what he did document was often quite classic. The two sessions included on this CD (which includes three alternate takes) are among the earliest hard bop recordings and would indirectly influence the modern mainstream music of the 1960s. The first session features Davis in a sextet with trombonist J.J. Johnson, altoist Jackie McLean, pianist Gil Coggins, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clarke; highlights include "Dear Old Stockholm," "Woody 'n You," and interpretations of "Yesterdays" and "How Deep Is the Ocean." The remaining six numbers showcase Davis in a quartet with pianist Horace Silver, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Art Blakey, really stretching out on such numbers as "Take Off" and "Well, You Needn't." However, on "It Never Entered My Mind," Davis' muted statement (his only one on this set) looks toward his treatments of ballads later in the decade.
Here are four tracks from one of the classic sessions of all time when a combination of giants gathered in Rudy Van Gelder's studio on Christmas Eve afternoon and early dark, 1954. With Thelonious Monk and three quarters of the Modern Jazz Quartet (Jackson, Heath, and Clarke) as his accomplices, Miles blends sophisticated harmonic knowledge with raw, spontaneous invention to produce extraordinary music. The two takes of "The Man I Love" are quite different within their basic similarity. An starter in "Round Midnight" done by the great Davis Quintet of 1956 -Coltrane, Garland, Chambers, Philly Joe Jones.
BAGS' GROOVE is drawn mostly from a June 29, 1954 session reuniting Miles with his "Walkin'" rhythm team and old cohort Sonny Rollins. In addition to two fine takes of Gershwin's "But Not For Me," Rollins italicizes his commanding return with three originals which became instant jazz classics. To fill things out, there are two takes of Milt Jackson's epic blues line "Bags' Groove," drawn from the legendary December 24, 1954 session.
The common denominator to both sessions is the remarkably swinging rhythm team of drummer Kenny Clarke and bassist Percy Heath, who provide shimmering, understated locomotion without ever getting in the way–aided and abetted by the bluesy, sanctified piano of Horace Silver.
This was a forerunner of the Miles Davis Quintet as it was his first session with Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones. Up to then his Prestige dates had been of the "all star" variety. (Oscar Pettiford fills that bill here.) By the fall, John Coltrane and Paul Chambers would come aboard to help form the first of a continuum of great Davis working groups. On "A Night in Tunisia" Philly Joe used special sticks with little cymbals riveted to the shaft.
From the new liner notes: “The session of March 16, 1956 is one of most beautiful, laid-back, floating-on-a-cloud experiences one can have. The first time I listened to it, I replayed it three times. Side note: ‘Vierd Blues’ is the same piece that appears on Miles’s Trane’s Blues, and there credited to John Coltrane, as it was when Trane first recorded it on a Kenny Drew session, years before. Until it was combined with the 1956 date, the Miles-Bird-Sonny session lay in the vaults. Meanwhile, on May 15, 1953 Bird and Dizzy Gillespie recorded their famed Massey Hall concert in Toronto. When that record was issued ‘Charlie Chan’ was used as Bird’s pseudonym. That’s how it came to be used for Collectors’ Items.” (Ira Gitler)
Preceded by Cookin' and Relaxin' , Workin' is a mix of standards and originals, up-tempos and ballads, and a trio number, "Ahmad's Blues." The music this quintet made in the mid-Fifties period will live forever: the excitement of the emerging John Coltrane; the informed, melodic swing of Red Garland; the tremendous snap and pop of the rhythm trio of Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones; and Miles's poignancy and intense swing.
Although they had made a few slightly earlier cuts that would later be issued on Columbia, the first full-length album by the Miles Davis Quintet is quite intriguing in that it gives one a look at tenor saxophonist John Coltrane when he still had a hesitant style. This CD reissue has the same music that is currently available on an Original Jazz Classics set: five jazz standards plus "The Theme." Unlike Coltrane, who would develop rapidly within the next year, Miles was already very much in his prime, sounding quite lyrical on "Just Squeeze Me" and "There Is No Greater Love," and the classic rhythm section (pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones) was quickly starting to gel.
Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet is in every way a masterpiece. When the trumpeter (1926-1991) had formed the band in 1955, his colleagues—tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones—were not considered jazz-world A-listers. And before conquering his narcotics addiction earlier in the Fifties, Davis had seen his once-promising career go into eclipse. By 1956, however, his sound, especially when muted, was an achingly personal counterpart to the vocals of Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. Relaxin’ (plus its Prestige companions, Miles, Cookin’, Workin’, and Steamin’) reestablished Davis, and elevated his quintet as the gold standard of small groups.