Thursday, January 29, 2015

Keith Jarrett Trio – Hamburg ‘72 (ECM, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

Today Keith Jarrett is rather notorious for the stern reprimands of his audience. The reasons are photographing or coughing. His public-bashings have earned him the reputation of a capricious diva, especially after he was expelled from the Umbria festival after a legendary rant in 2007 (the organizer took back the expulsion for the festival in 2013). Unfortunately, Jarrett is now in danger of being remembered more for his arrogance than for his art, which is a pity if you listen to recordings like Hamburg ’72, a beautifully recorded live concert by his first trio with Charlie Haden (b) and Paul Motian (dr).

And if you listen to Jarrett’s current Standards Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, which has recorded marvelous albums on the one hand (for example the At the Blue Note box set) but which has also stagnated in high-polish boredom recently on the other hand, or to Jarrett’s rather failed solo performances like Radiance or Rio, this recording makes you feel nostalgic. Haden and Motian are congenial partners for Jarrett, they are far more present than Peacock and DeJohnette, especially Haden’s well-structured, voluminous and earthy playing enabled Jarrett to rock and swing lustily that it is a real joy. The band is moving to and fro between modern jazz, lyrical ballads and free improvisation, since Jarrett is not only on piano on this album but also on flute, percussion, and soprano saxophone. It is a real surprise how excellent Jarrett is on these instruments emulating his great idol Ornette Coleman (one of the compositions is called “Piece for Ornette”), even if it helps that he is augmented by an exuberant Motian and a robust Haden, who prove that they could play very freely as well.

“Rainbow”, a composition by Jarrett’s former wife Margot, is a typical Jarrett waltz and gradually shifts to an improvisation alternating majestic and very quiet chords – something he has become famous for with his later albums like The Köln Concert or Bremen/Lausanne. There is an enthusiasm in his playing which is so often missed today. The real highlight of the album is “Take Me Back”, a track based on the chord progressions which have almost become a Jarrett-cliché later on, but which sound so fresh and energetic here that you want to plunge in them forever. You can even hear Jarrett jubilating in the background before the piece flows into  “Life, Dance ”, a wonderful three-minute-miniature,  in which he varies the theme of the Friedrich Hollaender/Marlene Dietrich classic “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt”. The album ends with Haden’s “Song for Che” from the legendary Liberation Music Orchestra album with Haden bowing wildly and Jarrett who starts the piece on saxophone and comes back to sparkling piano chords at last.

Hamburg ’72 is a lost classic, only the flute part on “Everything That Lives Laments” is a weaker moment, which is just saved by Haden’s powerful expression and Motian’s very subtle, finely engraved and rattling percussion.  And itis another treasure raised from the ECM archives. It’s a great opportunity to re-discover Jarrett and this marvelous trio.

By the way: There is a lot of coughing in the audience.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Michael Francis Duch – Tomba Emmanuelle (Sofa, 2014) ****

By Dan Sorrells

Large auditoriums create metainstruments. Or in this case, large mausoleums.

“In the sense that it, too, changes sound, we can consider the musical space of a concert hall to be...an extension of the musical instruments played within it,” write Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter. “When listeners attend a concert hall, they are placing themselves inside the large resonant enclosure of metainstruments.” Michael Francis Duch’s second solo album, Tomba Emmanuelle, was recorded in the Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum in Oslo, a building famous for its incredible natural reverb. Here, it also becomes the expansive grotto of Duch’s meta-bass, the dark resonant cavity in which the musician sits, like a homunculus in an empty skull, or—to borrow from Stig Sæterbakken—Jonah inside the whale.

Tomba Emmanuelle essentially begins in a state of reverb—a drone that materializes with no attack, no apparent force setting it into motion. The piece was designed to be played by one or more basses (and indeed has previously been performed with as many as seven bassists), and according to the liner notes “explores different registers, timbres and acoustic effects of the instrument in the relation to the room it is being performed in”—or, to put it another way, showcases the unique timbre and capability of a protean and immense metainstrument.

As Duch methodically bows the strings, amazing trails of notes begin to chase each other across the room, creating complex, pulsing drones and microtonal oscillations in pitch. Listening through headphones, a panning effect develops as the drones increase in volume: huge volleys of sound reflecting back and forth in the room, colossal waves cascading off the darkened, frescoed walls and crashing across the microphone.

“A wonderful sense of being consumed,” Sæterbakken once wrote, “this is what the Vigeland mausoleum offers its unprepared first-time visitor. But the feeling does not fade with repetition.” Such is the sense for the listener, too, the thick blanket of Duch’s bass offering no respite from its sonic weight as its reverberations steadily proliferate. A little over halfway through, Duch switches to a more percussive use of the bow, bouncing it in skittering glances off the strings, creating a hypnotic rhythmic figure that glides over organic feedback, at times converging into tones nearly as pure as sine waves.

What’s most remarkable about Tomba Emmanuelle is that in its relentless exploration of the performance space, it actually transcends it. What begins as acoustic bass in a really reverberant room becomes so rich and complex that at times the influence of the room drops away entirely—your brain stops aurally mapping the contours of the space and begins to perceive only new, emergent timbres. In the final minutes, Duch wrests a few harmonics from the bass, and hearing how the tomb splays and twists them before they melt away is almost as revelatory as the overwhelmingly dense passages of the preceding half an hour.

Tomba Emmanuelle was heroically recorded by Thomas Hukkelberg. The complexity and depth of sound could easily have overwhelmed a lot of recording setups. It almost goes without saying that the music on Tomba Emmanuelle could easily overwhelm a lot of listeners, too. But as Sæterbakken mused: “isn’t that what drives us, repeatedly, toward art in any form, the dream of being overpowered…of becoming one with the object in question, melting into it?” Huddled in the belly of the very instrument itself, dissolving into sound, delighting in being devoured again and again.

Listen to the full second part of Tomba Emmanuelle here:




Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Alexandra Grimal and Giovanni Domenico: Chergui (Ayler, 2014) *****

Reviewed by Joe

This is one of those records released in the last half of 2014, however, due the sheer quantity of albums to listen to this one got stuck in the 'things to listen to' pile, which, unfortunately, means the review comes a little late, although in this case better late than never!  

Chergui, a double album, is a collection of duets and solo pieces which are - I imagine - a combination of improvised performances and some compositions. The record opens with the extraordinary Prana, a solo piece by Alexandra Grimal, who develops an initial idea on her soprano which also makes use of the sound of the room - recorded in the Theatre du Châtelet (Paris) - to give the piece this extra dimension that Lacy also enjoyed using. Grimal makes full use of the acoustic, taking advantage of the theatre's sound to get the best out of the space between notes. It is an 8 minute track which is completely hypnotic, showing perfectly how an idea can be developed into several layers. What also strikes me on this, and the following performances, is the amazing control and clarity of sound that Grimal brings to this difficult saxophone, making the recording a pure joy to hear. The album never lets up from here over it's eighteen tracks, leading the listener through an intimate and yet searching set of works. 

Alexandra Grimal chooses soprano on most tracks, however, on The Window was Camel-less we get to hear the tenor saxophone. Grimal's approach to the tenor is slightly different and brings something quite special to the duo's sound which makes you wonder why she didn't use the instrument on some of the other pieces. The album is, one could say, a celebration of sound and space where Grimal and di Domenico use the theatre's space and acoustic to build some remarkable duet and solo works. One such work that appears in different guises dotted throughout the album, six in all, is piece titled Koan - versions numbered 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 & 19. These wonderful duets, almost short vignettes between the piano and soprano sax, seem to have planned themes (slightly different each time), which the duo come back to, using a slightly different approach each time to create new work.

As mentioned already there are two discs in this set. The main difference between the two is that the second disc places the emphasis on Giovanni di Domenico. This gives us a perfect chance to really listen to this composer/improviser/pianist, working melody and developing improvisations in a way which are at times close to modern 20th century piano works, and truly captivating also. Pieces such as Zai or Let sounds be themselves show di Domenico's way of combining contemporary techniques and melody into his own sound world, complementing Grimal's solo pieces on the CD. Nevertheless, the second album also has several duets which carry on from the first album. Tema Per Jan Svankmayer has a melody which leads the two to explore delicate spaces in the acoustics of the theatre. Ballata dei Piedi Volanti is another piece, that as the title suggests, treads carefully, only revealing the true nature of the melody at the end of the piece.

This recording is a must for all that enjoy improvisation at its highest level and I should add, that if there's one album you should have bought last year,......it's this one!

Head over to Ayler Records to get more details, and whilst your there don't forget to look over their excellent catalogue!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mike Majkowski: An Artist Deep Dive

31-year-old Mike Majkowski is - apart from Clayton Thomas - probably the most exciting double bass player in the current Australian improv scene. He has been been very active playing with people such as Jim Denley (in the very interesting duo Blip), Jon Rose (with whom and Thomas he runs the trio Strike) and Chris Abrahams. He is a founding member of the Splinter Orchestra, a large-scale electro-acoustic improvisational ensemble. Like Clayton Thomas (as to music they seem like twins) he has moved to Berlin where he has become one of the most active members of the Echtzeit network. His style seems to be influenced by the great Barry Guy since he is a technically excellent musician and he is interested in extended techniques, often using drumsticks and found metal objects in his playing. Despite his young age, Mike Majkoski has already been a part of many interesting releases. Several of them, including his intense solo works for his homeland label Avantawhatever or the latest one on Bocian Records, have been previously reviewed on these pages. He has also joined the florid orbit of NoBusinnes Records, giving us some penetrating albums like the Fabric Trio. According to the artist’s webpage there is a lot more to come.

He is also a member of the two trios which are presented here...

Lotto - Ask The Dust (LADO ABC, 2014) ***½


By  Paolo Casertano

In the Lotto trio Majkowski teams up with the two likewise young Polish musicians Łukasz Rychlicki on guitar and Paweł Szpura on drums. Ask the dust, their first recorded effort as a group, has been just released by the Polish label LADO ABC and it points out a really coherent and mature vision in its linearity and agreeableness. The insistent bass loops set by Majkowski (and this guy seems to be totally mastering the idea that “nothing is always the same even if you repeat it endlessly” as in his latest solo work) as in the opening “Gremlin-prone” evoke a misty and at the same time warm cinematic atmosphere. It builds the perfect trestle for the bluesy western guitar layers (never invasive even when the distortion grows) while the sparse drumming on toms and the many clattering carpets help us to identify the shape of a lonely rider in a cloud of dust emerging from the horizon. The central episodes of the album, “Longing to speak” and “Comet”, are probably the best embodiment of this approach. In some particularly diluted passages of “Divided”, which is made of really little variations given by mesmerizing repetitions (conception is pretty often behind Majkowski’s compositional vision again), but also in the crescendo of the closing “Man of medicine”, it would have been fun to assist the sudden outburst of an acid Sun-Ra-like synth riff. Last but not least, I believe the mastering of the album by Werner Dafeldecker, one of the most interesting “grey eminences” in the “wide jazz area” (see his contributions to the latest Fennesz masterpiece) is worth to be mentioned here.

Ask the dust is, in my opinion, a good example of open-minded jazz with no fixed or overwhelming references, pleasurable to listen and furthermore completely streamable here. But you can also buy the limited vinyl edition on the label website.


ROIL - Raft of the Meadows (NoBusiness, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

NoBusiness has had a long history of piano trios from Marilyn Lerner/Ken Filiano/Lou Grassi’s Arms Spread Wide over Upcoming Hurricane by Pascal Niggenkemper, Simon Nabatov and Gerald Cleaver to Plaything by Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter and Billy Elgart. Their latest release is ROIL, an Australian piano trio which was founded in 2007, consisting of Chris Abrahams (p), Mike Majkowski (b) and James Waples (dr).

Abrahams is mainly known for his work with The Necks (a highly successful piano trio featuring Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck) and like them the music of ROIL is also slowly unfolding – but it provides a more open-ended context. However, as in The Necks the emphasis is also on collective improvisation and repetition to create a trance-like atmosphere. Abrahams’ inclination for weird yet simple figures and groove elements without confining the interactive possibilities of free improvisation meets excellently with Majkowki’s very physical and robust bass playing and Waples’ elegant and subtle interjections.

Very often the pieces begin with tentative structures from one of the musicians before the others comment on it, but then they never get stuck on a melody or a groove, they rather shift the track into another direction which often happens almost indiscernibly. A perfect example for this approach is the title track which is dominated by Majkowski playing stoically one single note accompanied by Waples on cymbals. Then Majkowski decides to alter the bass line and Waples drops out, but he is soon replaced by Abrahams playing a very contrastive and bumpy free jazz pattern with extremely high notes. In the meantime Majkowski has taken the bow and his shy arcos fade out the experiment.
It’s the controlled energy, the angular textures, the delicate dynamics that distinguish ROIL from The Necks. While The Necks’ approach is very accessible and sometimes even obvious (and I like that a lot) ROIL lives up to its name, with explorations of structures and timbres that are disturbing, fragmented and irritating.

Raft of the Meadows is available on vinyl in a limited edition of 300 copies.

You can buy it from Instantjazz.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Piano Trios

By Stef

Piano, bass and drums. I had planned a review of all the albums we received last year with this line-up, but then it grew into such a long list, with more than twenty albums, all of varying quality and approach, and many probably too similar, that I started to get confused about what was on which album by which artist. The long review died a silent death.

But here are two must-haves. Why? Because the quality of the playing is superb, as is the instrumental mastership and creative inventiveness of the musicians. Two trios with the most fascinating pianists, bass players and drummers of the moment. Both albums are a real treat.

WHO Trio - Zoo (Auricle, 2014) ****½  


This is only the sixth album in fifteen years of this fantastic trio consisting of Michel Wintsch on piano, Gerry Hemingway on drums, and Bänz Oester on bass, and we get a special present this time, with two CDs, making up for the fact that their previous album was only released in 2010, and the one before in 2004. In any case, we've been fans from the start, and they don't dissapoint us here, quite to the contrary.

The first CD is called "Acoustic" and is as we might expect, entirely acoustic, the second CD is called "Electric", and offers three longer pieces on which Wintsch also uses his synthesizer, although not all the time.

The acoustic album is my favorite. On the long "Raccitus" you could even think you're already listening to electronics, but we can only trust all the sounds are generated acoustically, again a fabulous example of how with a traditional piano trio things unheard can be created, music that captivates, that is compelling, a kind of musical page-turner where you want to know what happens next, because it will be surprising and unexpected. Even in the more accessible "Rembellarun" with its beautiful theme, the music gets elevated to an eery and yearning strangeness by Oester's weeping bass. "Sloeperr" is more percussive and angular, full of creative twists and sounds and rhythms.

I will not even try to describe the rest of the first CD, which is fairly accessible without being mainstream, never losing its intensity and incredible focus and coherence.

The electric album is also my favorite. It starts with a fun piece, with lots of quirkiness and playfulness, strong doses of surprise, and even little jokes. But then as we proceed, the music becomes darker with the long second track, called "Lamp Bowl", which starts with quiet restlessness and agitation, picking up intensity and percussive power, only to turn completely gloomy and psychedelic on "Kettle Opener", going far beyond jazz, with weird synth sounds over a mesmerising backdrop of power rhythms and nervous bass, with varying moods of quiet desperation but intense with small sounds from bowed bass, plucked strings and soft percussion building an atmosphere of agony and anticipated doom.

The whole album draws you across a broad spectrum of musical ideas, subgenres, stylistic traditions and innovations, calmly yet decisively leading the listener to its formidable climax.

An absolute joy of an album.


Grünen - Pith & Twig (Clean Feed, 2014) ****½  


Their debut album of 2010 has turned into the name of the trio consisting of Achim Kaufmann on piano, Robert Landfermann on bass and Christian Lillinger on drums. Their sophomore release delivers the promise of the first one, and we can only be sad that it took four years to hear them again on record.

Some tracks are very short, built around composed ideas, quite inventive, and full of open and unexpected interactions, others are longer, such as the albums centerpiece, "Foliage Misconstrued", which is a nervous, angular, intense seventeen minute workout, with all three instruments giving their best in a complex dynamic that is both physical and lyrical, full of contradictions and inherent tension that suddenly turns into a slow eery soundscape, full of dark rumblings and distant scraping.

On "Chitin", the extended techniques reign to create an ominous atmosphere of fragility and vulnerability, hesitating to see how far sounds can be stretched before they burst. "Mobiliar" brings us a percussion-heavy almost boppish intro that shapeshifts into a calmer, refreshing, middle section, then shapeshifting again into an open improvisation with percussive hits on drums and piano creating a context for Landfermann's bass to demonstrate sonic pecularities.

The music leads you in many directions, of nervous agitation, playful boppish treats, calm precision and avant-garde explorations into the nature of sonic interaction, and most often all in the same track.

Again, three outstanding musicians who bring us some of the best piano bass drums music around.

Don't miss either of these albums. The next equally strong album piano trio we can look forward to is Roil with Raft Of The Meadows, but that trio will be reviewed by a colleague.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Áine O'Dwyer - Music For Church Cleaners Vol I & II (MIE, 2014) ****

By Stef

Solo organ works in modern music are extremely rare, and especially improvised performances, such as this one by Irish harpist Áine O'Dwyer. She was given access to the pipe organ in St Mark's Church in Islington, UK, "while the cleaners were at work", hence the title of the album.

I am not an organ fan, I don't like the pompous and dramatic multiphonic dynamics of it, of this first kind of acoustic synthesizer, the overpowering and religious connotations of the instrument, reminiscent of the so dreaded realm of falsehood, fakery and kitsch of childhood church experiences.

Yet to O'Dwyer's credit, she plays the instrument quietly, slowly and reverently, using the church's space as an inspiration. The ambient sounds of the church, not only cleaners, but also visitors and children give the overall sound a special dimension, one that is not out there in the stratosphere and even higher heavens, but one that is close to earth, contrasting sharply with the surroundings.

I like it a lot, despite my bias against the instrument.

Part of the music was already released in 2012 on cassette (sold out), but is now in full available on a double LP or digital recording. You can order from the label.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet - Afterimage (Driff Records, 2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Afterimage, recently released on Driff Records, was recorded live at Constellation in Chicago and follows in the footsteps of last year's studio recording Circuitous.  As you may already know, besides the Boston based group leader pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, the group is comprised mainly of Chicago based players* – and benefits wonderfully from this East meets Mid-West dynamic. Featuring all new compositions, like the previous recording, the songs still draw some influence from the compositions of Thelonious Monk and Steve Lacy, but this recording finds the group playing a bit farther out.

The high energy 'The Ledger' kicks things off in a melodically rich manner. A splash of piano and a syncopated horn riff and then off into a cooly abstract sax solo. 'Haunt' kicks off with an extended solo from bassist Nate McBride and builds into a group crescendo that ends abruptly as the song fragments. The spirit continues on 'The Nest', which features a two chord ostinato on the piano reminiscent of Filles de Kilimanjaro-era Miles Davis over which the horns go at it. We're back on solid ground with 'Velocipede' - the saxes are wailing, the pulse is strong, the bass is walking and the drums are swinging. Karayorgis plays a hell of a solo - unexpected chords and dissonant double stops fly by, economical and precise, unresolved, yet utterly fulfilling. The title track is a treat as well, from a few moments after the open ended intro and a great bass clarinet passage, the track evolves into a multifaceted conversation and the free interchange is just perfect.

Afterimage, captured live, but sounding studio sharp, is an excellent album whose tracks expertly strike a balance between free and composed. It seems that the group, by pushing out a bit further out into the free playing, deliver yet another top notch recording.

*The group: Pandelis Karayorgis: piano; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet;  Nate McBride: bass; Dave Rempis: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone and baritone saxophone ; Frank Rosaly: drums.

Listen here:



Jorrit Dijkstra: New Crosscurrents - Live Bimhuis Amsterdam (Driff Records, 2014) ****


By Paul Acquaro

Reedman Jorrit Dijkstra: New Crosscurrents is a sextet that seamlessly meshes a classic jazz sound, descendent of the Tristano school, with a healthy helping of full on ensemble free-playing on their download only Live Bimhaus Amsterdam from Driff records. The group is comprised of Dijkstra on alto saxophone, David Kweksilber on tenor and alto saxophone, Wiek Hijmans on guitar, Guus Janssen on piano, Raoul van der Weide on bass and Wim Janssen on drums.

The group announces itself with 'Crosscurrent' an uptempo tune with a strong be-bop drive to it. The straight ahead sax solos is augmented by the excellent comping of Guus' piano. But, it's when we get to guitarist Hijmans, whose non-obvious note and rhythmic choices in both accompaniment and solo, that the song really jells into something else. The head of 'Extrucage' has echoes of Monk and Lacy in it's somewhat spasmodically unfolding manner (Djikstra is a member of The Whammies, a group dedicated to interpreting these two influential composers work).  'Konitzology' refers to the cooler and quieter style of Lee Konitz, whose influence is echoed through the sophisticated intertwining lines of the guitar and the saxes. Hijams' textural solo is the centerpiece of 'Marshcello', which seems to be an improvised piece and one that highlights the group's rapport – that is until a composed passage form the horns is juxtaposed over arhythmic comping on the piano, and a whole new song springs forth. 'Non-Stop' boils with defiant power chords and Cecil Taylor like tonal clusters from the piano.

Live Bimhuis Amsterdam is an accessible and high energy affair, the band concept is strong and all the members play excellently. The album is an engaging mix of composition and free playing and a fun listen.

Listen, download:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

We Like We - A New Age of Sensibility (The Being Music, 2014) **** ½


By Eyal Hareuveni

The debut of the all-female Danish-Copenhagen-based chamber quartet We Like We refuses to surrender to any conventional musical boundaries. The four musicians - vocalist Katinka Fogh Vindelev, violinist Katrine Graup Elbo, percussionist Sara Rosendal and cellist Josephine Opshal - are all classically trained but seek to expand and explore much wider sonic horizons. This democratic collective refers to American minimalism - the early operatic experiences of Philip Glass, the vocal ensemble of Meredith Monk  and the highly-disciplined, minimalist rhythmic modules of Steve Reich. In adding celestial vocal arrangements inspired by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and spicing it up with subtle layers of electronics that alter and enhance the instrumental vocabulary, the group excels in the open, versatile process of sound-oriented free improvisations. The intense, often very emotional, approach of the quartet is much closer to an art-rock bands rather than to any jazz-based outfit.

The album, a new Age of Sensibility, was produced in collaboration with sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard, and is released by the label of alternative singer-songwriter Jomi Massage (aka Signe Høirup Wille-Jørgensen), dedicated to women art.

The eleven compositions revolve around a loose dramatic narrative that contemplates failed expectations from a loved other and finding one’s individual voice, literally, through short, poetic texts and the suggestive vocals of Vindelev, even when she recites wordless syllables.  The a-capella “Wakey Wakey Beast” distills such approach when monotonous, repeated vocal articulations similar to the ones introduced in Glass and Robert Wilson opera, Einstein on the Beach, to a heartbreaking realization of a failed love. Later, on “The Sound of My Voice”, Vindelev haunting, fragile delivery is gently embraced by fellow musicians as she sings: “What am i supposed to give? / I only follow the sound of my own voice”, reaching the inevitable painful conclusion on “Separation” and “I Began to Fall Apart”.  This moving understanding is followed by the poignant, meditative “Tišina” that suggests new bright colors and delicate vibrations for the new found sensibility. Soon followed by “Unite Me”. the romantic anticipation for a peaceful, quiet relationship: “Unite with me / All is loud until / you /unite with me”.

Beautiful and haunting work of art.



Visit We Like We's Soundcloud page for more...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Miles Davis Quintet - All of You - The Last Tour 1960 (Acrobat, 2014) *****

Some of my friends ask me why I rarely, very rarely, give an album 5 stars.  I always answer, “If it ain’t ‘Kind of Blue” it doesn’t get 5 stars”.  Now, that’s an exaggeration for sure because for one KOB isn’t really a free jazz album for one and secondly it’s a pretty high goal to reach for any jazz record.  Not merely because it’s the highest-selling jazz record of all-time, sales should never be a measure of artistic achievement, but because it really is a high-water mark of brilliance in any music genre.  The compositions, the arrangements, the players and the recording are a pinnacle in the annals of recorded music.  I’m sure many of us have friends who are music snobs but not jazz fans per se but I bet they own Kind of Blue (1959). 

So enter the 1960 European tour of the Miles Davis Quintet featuring John Coltrane.  20 dates, some of which is represented here on this incredible collection.  The most astounding part of these four CD’s is that no-one is playing this by then well-worn material by rote.  Do we really need eight different versions of “So What”?  Hell yes!  Because they never play it exactly the same way twice.  Though the solid and dependable rhythm section of bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb is here from KOB Wynton Kelly replaces the singular, delicate voice of Bill Evans on piano and more than amply fills these shoes.  In fact, he truly shines and I gained new appreciation for Mr. Kelly from these performances.  Much is made of Mr. Coltrane’s presence, and rightly so, but to my ears it is Mr. Kelly who is keeping the whole thing together rhythmically and harmonically and when his chance to solo comes he never ceases to amaze.  Unique, bold, original and innovative at every stretch. 

Back to Mr. Coltrane: his solos on this release are at times playful and harmonically complex as is his signature, stretching the boundaries of the themes and in fact the genre, and always interesting.  There are clear signs of the direction he would soon take on his own as a leader.  After sifting through all four CD’s I heard only one break where he seems to be sleepwalking through a blow but yet what was exciting was how he pulled his way out of it and ended up thrilling and titillating my ears, and the audience at the show, somehow (I won’t say which song it is lest I be delusional but you tell me ). 

Miles Davis himself plays some of his finest breaks in this set and clearly is inspired by the material and the band (Note: absent for these shows from the KOB band for the record is Cannonball Adderley) and very probably the audiences which are rapt during the songs and very appreciate after.  It’s clear they knew they were witness to giants in their land and showed due respect and generosity.  The recordings themselves are astounding.  Beautifully clear and detailed it’s hard to argue with the one song here that you can barely hear a Mr. Kelly solo.  Someone obviously knew what they were doing and somehow preserved it which is a wondrous thing for us to have lo these 50+ years later. 

Miles Davis first hired a then 29-year-old John Coltrane in 1955 and by 1960 his own star had rocketed and birthed what we now all call “free jazz” but these were his last performances with Mr. Davis.  This is a gift we should cherish.  Hell yes, 5 stars.  Are you kidding?  Go get it. 

P.S.-The liner notes in the book by Simon Spillett are superb and well worth a read.  Though KOB looms large around these concerts other material such as “’Round Midnight”, “Fran Dance”, “Walkin’” and “On Green Dolphin Street” also show up here more than once.  There’s also included on CD 1 an audio recording of an interview with John Coltrane backstage in by a Swedish broadcaster that is fascinating. 

Personnel: Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) 

26 performances in all (songs) across 4 CD’s.