Personnel: John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); Miles Davis (trumpet); Wynton Kelly (piano); Jimmy Cobb (drums).
Photographers: Jean-Pierre Leloir; Bengt H. Malmqvist.
The sixth volume in Legacy's Miles Davis Bootleg Series circles back to 1999's Miles Davis and John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961, with an exclamation point. The four discs here are taken from five concerts in March 1960: Two sets from L'Olympia in Paris, two at Stockholm's Konserthuset, and one from Copenhagen's Tivolis Koncertsal. The three-week European tour was part of the Jazz at the Philharmonic series produced by George Wein. Accounts from Davis and drummer Jimmy Cobb claim certifiable tension surrounding John Coltrane. He left the band at the end of 1959 and reportedly had to be talked (hard) into taking the gig by Davis. It was the trumpeter's first European tour as an international jazz star, and the band -- with Cobb, pianist Wynton Kelly, and bassist Paul Chambers were among the cats who recorded 1959's Kind of Blue.
From the opening moments of "All of You" in the first Paris show, it's obvious that what's happening on-stage wasn't planned. It took everyone, with the possible exception of Coltrane, by surprise, and is more than 17-minutes long. The lengthy solo by the saxophonist greets the changes with dissonance, sharp angles, and a (then) atypical fury as he tries out new sounds, fingerings, and breathing techniques. Kelly brings it back inside with his own solo, light, fleet, expert, and swinging. "All of You" is followed by a blazing 13-minute "So What," offered with the illuminating contrast that would underscore the tour: The reinvention of standards from the '40s and '50s with more open, less melodic modal jazz epitomized by the Kind of Blue material. In the first version of "All Blues," Davis follows Chambers and Kelly by adding more physicality to his own playing without sacrificing his lyric invention. It foreshadows Coltrane's wailing solo full of multiphonics, honks, and banks of layered scales that wove together East and West. The short reading of the bop standard "Oleo" is the only place in either of the Paris concerts where the saxophonist reigns himself in. "All Blues" from Copenhagen is also faster. Chambers' short solo intro is picked up by Kelly's fat vamp and Cobb's stutter-step beat before Davis takes the lean melody and stretches it, opening a door for Coltrane, who commences slowly before breaking its structure wide open. Once more, it's Kelly's grooving solo with glorious right-hand flourishes that brings the hard swing back to the equation. All the music here is filled with these moments. The decision to rework the standards in order to make room for more openness was wise and all one needs to do is check the three versions of "On Green Dolphin Street" here for evidence. Interestingly, while the tour established Davis' international rep for good, it was Coltrane who benefitted most from the tour -- he was all but unknown before it, and unforgettable after. The tape sources are all official: The Copenhagen gig is remastered from a state radio broadcast and the other two concerts are from producers' archives, making this historic set among the most essential in the Bootleg Series. ~ Thom Jurek