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    Miles Davis

    birth of the cool

    Birth Of The Cool ( 1949 )
    Move / Jeru / Moon Dreams / Venus de Milo / Budo / Deception / Godchild / Boplicity / Rocker / Israel / Rouge / Darn That Dream

    'Birth Of The Cool' was recorded over three sessions, initially as a series of 78s for Columbia Records. Miles Davis had top billing, but drawing together the likes of Evans, Mulligan and other top arrangers led to this really being a collaborative effort. The music swings effortlessly, the musicians form an ensemble and although players came and passed through the collective during the three recording sessions, the sound remains stable and solid - allowing the melodies to flow fluidly as the feel of the music demands. We've eleven instrumental cuts here and one vocal number and yes, the vocal number sounds suitably out of place and considerably more old-fashioned than the pioneering 'Cool Jazz' Miles and collegues were putting together as a reaction to bebop.

    Comments about some of the tunes here then, I love the harmonies on the album, particularly 'Boplicity', beautiful harmonic tones all throughout the track yet still allowing room for a solo or three to come gently sailing through. The attack and dynamics of the drum work on 'Budo' stands out and helps the track leap out at you from its place in the middle of the album. 'Rocker' has some gentle, lovely flowing melodies, 'Jeru' has several very familiar sounding lines in amidst the fantastic playing. Those of you who know me will also not be surprised to discover I love the double-bass sounds and they are particular prominent throughout 'Venus de Milo'. I adore 'Moon Dreams', an utterly gorgeous ballad, genuinely moving and perhaps my favourite piece here. Well, 'Moon Dreams'? Romantic tones? Check.

    Thirty six minutes of music and even if you don't normally like jazz, there's enough variety here to suggest all but the very narrow-minded should find something to like about 'Birth Of The Cool'. To summarise in a word? Well, impeccable does it, really. Does it for me, how about you?

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    Readers Comments

    Stephen Worcester
    Cracking. I bought this about 10 years ago and it was one of those 'never off the stereo' gems. I find it brittle and wheezy, in a good way and it is indicative of Miles Davis' continuing experimentation. For me it is Max Roach's drumming (c.f. Move drum solo) which makje sit rise above the gerd, but then Max Roach polished everything he touched


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    Dig ( 1951 )
    Dig / It's Only A Paper Moon / Denial / Bluing / Out Of The Blue / Conception / My Old Flame

    Jazz artists did recording sessions throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s for other band-leaders, for 78 and 45 rpm single releases, for 10" releases. Provided the material found a way out and they got paid, the musicians didn't mind. Record releases from sessions dedicated to a particular project or piece of vinyl were a relatively new thing which is partly why the Miles Davis discography, infinitely large as it is, is fairly hard to pin down. Compilations like 'Birth Of The Cool' are regarded as legitimate album works many years later. Many Miles Davis discographies have a large leap then from 1949/1950 right through to 1955/1956 with little regard to what came after. Of course, 'Birth Of The Cool' in itself is a relatively random leaping in point if you realise Miles was recording sessions from 1945, starting out with the wonderfully named ensemble 'Herbie Field Band with Rubberlegs Williams'. Contributions welcome of course as to whom Rubberlegs Williams was and to the why of how he came by such a moniker.

    Released on the Prestige lake, 'Dig' features tracks from 1951 recording sessions at Apex Studios and was remastered in 1956 by Rudy Van Gelder. If 'Birth Of The Cool' was something airy and laid-back the sessions for 'Dig' certainly were not - they were free, aggressive and possibly under the influence of substances. Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean played tenor and alto saxophone's respectively, Charles Mingus plays double-bass on 'Conception' whilst Tommy Potter (double-bass), Walter Bishop Jr (piano) and Art Blakely (drums) round out the group. All 7 songs recorded for this record were taped on October 5th, 1951 at Apex studios in New York and this was the first LP released by Prestige on its then new 10" 33 and a third RPM series. 'Bluing' then moves through blues inspired changes with double-bass underpinning it al, whilst the drums keep time and the coolness of the brass instruments come through, Miles often after the Saxes with a solo or two to confirm him as the leader of the ensemble. The opening Dig' is fairy psychedelic, this sound mix leaving just some natural echo acoustically whilst also sounding like the microphones were hanging from the ceiling covered by damp towels. The band move through their changes and improvisations with amazing energy and aggression, without ever losing sight of the key to it all, the melodies.

    'Out Of The Blue' closed the original 10" vinyl LP, the remaining two tracks recorded at the same sessions were added to the 12" reissue. When we talk and hear Jazz greats from this era working together it's just something a fan of the rock era finds hard to credit. Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus on the same track? Well yes, that's 'Conception', you can feel the energy and rivalry in the room. These were all young musicians near the start of long careers and all would go on to do better things, but there's not much to fault here and Mingus brings a different feel to the bass lines, more urgent somehow.

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    this page last updated 26/05/08


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