Title - 'The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions'
Artist - Miles Davis
With this 4 CD boxed set, Prestige falls right in line with the outstanding series of Columbia-era Miles Davis boxed sets. In this case, the label's recordings by what many regard as Miles' first great small group gets freshly remastered and packaged. Yes, with the exception of the bonus tracks this material has been -- and still is -- available in a number of configurations. This just happens to be the best attempt yet to organize all of the quintet material (1955-1956) into a one-size-fits-all set. Furthermore, although the cover artwork could have gone either way -- classic or contemporary -- to good effect, I like the choice to use 1980s-era artwork by Miles himself, which sort of symbolizes the timelessness of the music.
Putting aside the details of the music itself for a moment, I've always been fascinated by the fact that the majority of the tracks included here were rush-recorded in two marathon sessions, solely aimed at fulfilling Davis' contract with Prestige after he had signed and already begun recording for Columbia (which is why most of the music here was recorded AFTER the earliest sessions on the Sony boxed set THE COMPLETE COLUMBIA RECORDINGS 1955-1961). For the 1956 dates, Miles basically decided to take his current working group into the studio and in effect play two concerts (sans audience), with one-take run-throughs of his live repetoire. As happened so often during Miles' career, his unconventional approach resulted in music with an electricity and level of inspiration that stays fresh no matter how many times one listens to it, or how much time has passed since the recording dates.
Although the result is that for the most part no new compositions are performed, that loss is not felt because the focus is less on the songs -- as great as the mix of tunes is here -- than on the personnel. At the time some questioned Miles' choice of sidemen (reedman John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones). Yet what is obvious from every track here is how well the parts quickly came together to produce a greater sum than what might have been predicted beforehand. The tunes generally fall into two categories: 1) pop standards (including some ballads associated with Frank Sinatra), and updated versions of classic bebop-era compositions. Lastly, the studio cuts comprise the first three discs, while the fourth CD presents several tv and radio airchecks that are officially released for the first time (more great music, but not quite-as-good sound quality as the brilliantly-recorded studio cuts). There's some interesting ECD material as well. Overall this set is a must for first-time buyers and a great way to upgrade for those who already own some or all of this material.