For nearly half a century, Miles Davis (1926-1991) was arguably the preeminent innovator in jazz - rarely staying in the same place twice, experimenting with the most cutting-edge styles and ideas he could imagine. This year, some of Miles' most enduring works for Columbia Records are collected the way they were originally heard: MILES DAVIS: THE ORIGINAL MONO RECORDINGS. Each CD, newly remastered by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios, is housed in a mini-LP replica jacket, faithfully replicating the original LP sleeves. They are encased in a quality slipcase, alongside a 40-page booklet with rare photos and brand-new essay offering in-depth, first-hand accounts from George Avakian, who signed Miles to Columbia in 1955, AND play-by-play from mastering engineer Mark Wilder. This is the true genius of Miles Davis as most people first heard it, the way it was intended to be heard: in mono.
None of Miles Davis' recordings has been more shrouded in mystery than Jack Johnson, yet none has better fulfilled Miles Davis' promise that he could form the "greatest rock band you ever heard." Containing only two tracks, the album was assembled out of no less than four recording sessions between February 18, 1970, and June 4, 1970, and was patched together by producer Teo Macero. Most of the outtake material ended up on Directions, Big Fun, and elsewhere. The first misconception is the lineup: the credits on the recording are incomplete. For the opener, "Right Off," the band is Miles, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Herbie Hancock, Michael Henderson, and Steve Grossman (no piano player!), which reflects the liner notes.
With their second album, Miles Smiles, the second Miles Davis Quintet really began to hit their stride, delving deeper into the more adventurous, exploratory side of their signature sound. This is clear as soon as "Orbits" comes crashing out the gate, but it's not just the fast, manic material that has an edge – slower, quieter numbers are mercurial, not just in how they shift melodies and chords, but how the voicing and phrasing never settles into a comfortable groove. This is music that demands attention, never taking predictable paths or easy choices.
Miles Davis' concert of February 12, 1964, was originally divided into two LPs, with all of the ballads put on My Funny Valentine. These five lengthy tracks (which include "All of You," "Stella by Starlight," "All Blues," "I Thought About You," and the title cut) put the emphasis on the lyricism of Davis, along with some strong statements from tenor saxophonist George Coleman and freer moments from the young rhythm section of pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams.
Kind of Blue isn't merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it's an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album, a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue posses such a mystique? Perhaps because this music never flaunts its genius. It lures listeners in with the slow, luxurious bassline and gentle piano chords of "So What." From that moment on, the record never really changes pace – each tune has a similar relaxed feel, as the music flows easily. Yet Kind of Blue is more than easy listening. It's the pinnacle of modal jazz – tonality and solos build from the overall key, not chord changes, giving the music a subtly shifting quality. All of this doesn't quite explain why seasoned jazz fans return to this record even after they've memorized every nuance.
With the release of the spectral title tune, and the efforts of the Columbia marketing and publicity departments behind him, a thirty-year old Miles Davis entered into a period of extraordinary artistic maturity and growth. And Miles instinctively knew how to cultivate his star quality. Looming behind those shades, was the diffident, sensitive anti-hero–proud and defiant–who only spoke to his audience through his horn, and turned his back on them when the other soloists were blowing. The combination of attitude and intellect was irresistible. Beginning with ROUND ABOUT MIDNIGHT and proceeding through a remarkable succession of famous recordings over the next 30 years, Miles Davis became one of the greatest soloists, arrangers and talent scouts in the history of American music. People who didn't own a single jazz record came to know his name–Miles was a jazz icon.
The Original Mono Recordings is comprised of Bob Dylan’s first eight long-playing albums, painstakingly reproduced from their first generation monaural mixes as the artist intended them to be heard: One channel of powerful sound, both direct and immediate. While stereo recordings had been available as early as the mid-1950s, mono was still the predominant – and often preferred – mode of recording and mixing by the top artists of the 1960s. As a result, artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan devoted their attention to the mono mixes, leaving the stereo mixing process to studio engineers.
The Best of the Original Mono Recordings is a single-disc distillation of 2010’s nine-disc box The Original Mono Recordings, picking 14 tracks from the eight albums on the box and adding the non-LP single “Positively 4th Street.” The inclusion of this 1965 Top Ten hit makes this disc enticing to collectors, although it does suggest that the box would benefit from a brief bonus disc of singles containing that song, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window,” “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” and “Mixed-Up Confusion.” But this disc is intended to be nothing more than a sampler hinting at the treasures within the big box…
Along with its sister recording, Pangaea, Agharta was recorded live in February of 1975 at the Osaka Festival Hall in Japan. Amazingly enough, given that these are arguably Davis' two greatest electric live records, they were recorded the same day. Agharta was performed in the afternoon and Pangaea in the evening. Of the two, Agharta is superior. The band with Davis – saxophonist Sonny Fortune, guitarists Pete Cosey (lead) and Reggie Lucas (rhythm), bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Al Foster, and percussionist James Mtume – was a group who had their roots in the radically streetwise music recorded on 1972's On the Corner, and they are brought to fruition here.