After writing yesterday about the October 26, 1956 recording session for Prestige that produced upward of 14 tracks and allowed Miles Davis to complete his contract with the record label, I grabbed the most fractured album of the bunch to give it a careful listen.
The album, Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants. consists of four tracks—three recorded in 1954 and one, 'Round About Midnight, recorded on that October 1956 date.
It's an odd album, in that the track 'Round About Midnight clearly doesn't belong on it. Completely different groups were used on the two dates—as you would expect, since the sessions were separated by two years. The differences in Miles' playing is stark. Miles in 1954 was still running bop lines and trying to find a new direction. By 1956, his playing was more brooding and centered, using space brilliantly to his artistic advantage.
Even odder is this isn't exactly a Miles Davis album. The 1954 session, in all fairness, is Milt Jackson's date. While Miles is mostly floating around on the 1954 tracks, Bags is razor sharp and knows exactly what he wants to get across. His vibes on The Man I Love, Swing Spring and Bemsha Swing sound like ice cubes dropping into a crystal glass. Splendid sound and sharp ideas throughout.
Listening to Bemsha Swing, you can hear Miles hanging too long on notes a number of times, seemingly unsure where to go next. Jackson, by contrast, can't wait to get in and do his thing, and when he does, the energy level instantly rises.
'Round About Midnight, the 1956 "sore thumb" track, is fascinating because it sounds more like a work of exhaustion and boredom than of achievement. A little research tells the tale. A month earlier, on September 10, Miles had already recorded the definitive version of this Thelonious Monk ballad for the soon-to-be-released Columbia album of the same name. By October, Miles sounds as if he's purposefully taking the song in odd directions, slyly ensuring that it wouldn't top what he had already recorded for his new label. Funny.
Wax tracks: Download the two versions of 'Round About Midnight and compare and contrast. Remember, the Columbia version was recorded a month and a half earlier than the Prestige track—under duress. A fascinating listen.
Wax clip: I'm convinced there are no bad jazz vibes players. Red Norvo, Terry Gibbs, Lionel Hampton—the list goes on and on. But at the top of my list are Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson, both of whom were probably the instrument's most inventive players. Here's a terrific video clip of Jackson and Hutcherson playing together on Bag's Groove.