Miles Davis’ Bootleg Series of releases over the last decade have brought about the public discovery of some amazing music. Certainly one of the joys of collecting actual bootlegs is hearing unfiltered and unedited moments straight from the horse’s mouth, especially when great improvisers are involved. The team leading the excavation into this particular vault, comprised of Miles’ family members, has shown generally good taste in selecting the available material for these releases. But it turns out, they’ve been holding out on us. This four-disc set of recordings, taken from five concerts in three European cities in March, 1960, with a band that includes John Coltrane making his final appearance as a sideman, captures the vibe and flow of this band on stage, at length, and every minute of it is exciting.
This is essentially the live album from the Kind Of Blue tour, with multiple versions of “So What” and “All Blues” with most of the same personnel. You also hear the same group of players taking on classics like “On Green Dolphin Street”, “Round Midnight”, “Oleo”, “All Of You” and “Walkin'”. And from Coltrane, you can hear the sound of a man trying to accelerate the process of turning the present into the future.
According to Ashley Kahn’s liner notes, Coltrane was not at his happiest on this tour, not surprising knowing what he was impatient to go home and do – start a band of his own with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, and record My Favorite Things, which would happen just seven months later. He’s in the middle of some big ideas, and in his solos with Miles, he’s taking the chance to try some of them out at packed concert halls in the European capitals. While Miles tends to play it icy cool and lyrical, and pianist Wynton Kelly is joyful and endlessly melodic, Coltrane’s solos are boiling over, overflowing with notes.
He receives a not-always-thrilled response from the audience, which comes through on the tape from Paris. It’s not quite Dylan-goes-electric grade hostility, the crowd does seem to be enjoying themselves. But whenever Coltrane takes the lead, there’s audible bewilderment at this sound they’ve never heard before.
In an interview with Swedish radio included on disc four, he notes that his work with Davis has led him directly to what he’s getting ready to do, revealing that “I’ve been so free here, anything I want to try, I’m welcome to do it.” He further explains that his playing isn’t meant to convey anger, but rather that “I’m trying so many things, at one time, that I haven’t got them all sorted out. I’ve got a bag of things that I’m trying to get through, and get to the one essential.”
As is made clear by the performance given moments after that interview, he was willing to take that freedom Davis offered, and run with it. He can’t faze the rhythm section of Kelly, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Paul Chambers on bass, they’re right there keeping up with him, and keep him from veering too far off the cliff. But there are spots where you can hear Coltrane trying to shoot ahead, and they just can’t move at his speed. At other times, Coltrane manages to relax and stick with the team for most of the time, until toward the end of his spot, when you can hear him straining as if trying to shake their tail.
Had Davis picked any other tenor player for this tour, his own presence might have gotten a longer review from me. He is excellent throughout, thoughtful about every note, dynamic, and thoroughly on. It’s his star turn, the move from club circuit performer to international concert hall superstar, and he’s making the most of it as bandleader and soloist. He couldn’t have known he would get a little bit upstaged by his own tenor player, who just happened to be in the process of updating the jazz vocabulary at this very moment.
This is one of the all-time great jazz ensembles, and to have five complete concerts of theirs in this quality is special. I suggest buying it and listening to it daily. This kind of stuff shouldn’t be only in the hands of bootleg collectors – it should be taught in schools.