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Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964 by Miles Davis

Never one content to look back or revisit past glories, in his lifetime Miles Davis took jazz on a mind-bending journey that pushed the music into ever expanding vistas that found jazz mixing liberally with elements of pop, blues and funk. This is not to say that there weren’t hurdles along the way, as drug problems, social inequalities, and personnel changes plagued Davis at various times in his career. As for the latter, Davis found himself in what would be the first of several major transitions that had begun back in the spring of 1961. Tenor saxophone master John Coltrane had left the trumpeter’s employ to lead his own band, thus closing an important chapter in jazz history and putting to an end Davis’ first celebrated quintet. Hank Mobley had come on board to take his place and while the new tenor man had his own style, it was less radical than Coltrane’s histrionics and Davis was not always pleased with the end results. Still, the trio of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb had been together for some time and the chemistry that they shared was undeniably strong.

The lifespan of the aforementioned quintet would be short lived, as the end of 1962 brought with it a need for an entirely new line-up. The first two neophytes to sign up would be tenor saxophonist George Coleman and bassist Ron Carter and with Miles eager to get the sound of this fledgling unit down on tape, he would spend two days in a Los Angeles recording studio in April of 1963. Rounding out the ensemble would be West Coast artists Frank Butler on drums and Victor Feldman on piano. While the music they recorded those days, the results of which kick off Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964, hinted that things were still very much in flux, a month later events came together, which would bring more stability to the line-up. Pianist Herbie Hancock and drummer Tony Williams would join the ranks and the three pieces they cut in New York with Coleman would help round out the album Seven Steps To Heaven.

At this point in time, it’s vital to understand that all was not well in terms of Davis’ relationship with Columbia Records and producer Teo Macero. Upset over Macero’s decision to release the album Quiet Nights without the trumpeter’s approval, Davis refused to do any studio recordings, a self-imposed ban that lasted three years. In an effort to fulfill contractual obligations nonetheless, Columbia released concert tapes of several of Davis’ live appearances, this material constituting the bulk of the set at hand.

Up first is the quintet’s June 1963 set at the Antibes jazz festival in France that was initially released as the LP Miles Davis In Europe. For the first time, the concert is being heard here in its entirety, with edited selections restored to their full length and sound quality of the mono masters being much improved over previous incarnations. Just listen to Tony Williams, a mere 17 years old at the time, and his extended solo on "Walkin’" to truly understand how important the new additions were to Davis’ overall conception and approach. Tempos have inched up to blistering speeds at times and each soloist has ample opportunity to stretch out at great length.

Seven months later came the legendary concert at New York’s Philharmonic Hall that would be broken up and presented piecemeal fashion on the albums My Funny Valentine and Four & More. Restored to original sequence order and length, this set’s vitality and power are said to have come from the fact that Davis would tell his band mates on the spot that he was waiving both his and the group’s fee for the benefit of the evening’s presenters- CORE, SNCC, and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund.

Despite the gains that Davis’ new ensemble seemed to be making, Williams’ displeasure with Coleman’s style forced the tenor man to resign and before long the forward-thinking Sam Rivers would be brought into the fold by the drummer. Another concert recording, Miles In Tokyo, has never been available in this country domestically and while the growing pains are undeniably evident, there’s much to enjoy here and the stereo sound of this radio broadcast is quite good.

Although Rivers was more of a risk-taker than Coleman had been, Davis was still not entirely happy and so it would come as no surprise that the arrival of Wayne Shorter in the fall of 1964 would prove to be nothing short of a revelation for both Davis and his audience. Another remote recording, Miles In Berlin, rounds out this set and ushers in the arrival of the next great Davis rhythm section comprising Shorter, Hancock, Carter, and Williams.

Containing a total of eight previously unreleased tracks and three more presented in unedited form for the first time, this collection offers one the opportunity to go along for the ride as Davis forges ahead, every move carefully annotated by Bob Belden via a 92-page booklet. Over the course of seven discs, all remastered in sterling 24-bit fidelity, we have a front row seat to hear Davis in his natural environment, the concert stage, with a renewed appreciation of material that still gets somewhat lost in the shuffle of Davis’ more prominent works.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Miles Davis
  • CD Title: Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Reissue Original Release: 1963-1964
  • Record Label: Columbia Legacy
  • Rating: Five Stars
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