Miles Davis, ‘A Kind Of Blue Sessions’ (Voodoo Down / So What! VDD 2002-14)
Disk One; Freddie Freeloader (Takes 1-4 / Piano solo / Another Mix) / So What (Takes 1-3) / Another mix) / Blue In Green (Takes 1 -5 / Another mix) (65:57)
Disk Two; Flamenco Sketches (Takes 1-6 / Another mix) / All Blues (Take 1 / Another mix) (58:03)
Miles Davis’ “A Kind Of Blue” is routinely listed as one of the best jazz LPs of all time, it’s inclusion in greatest album lists also lends it’s a gravitas that the sometimes misunderstood and impenetrable artform struggles to make heard.
Recorded in 1959, Miles took influence from George Russell’s text, “Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization”. An urtext of jazz that suggested that different scales could be achieved by alternating what was already established with a newer style of building chord structures, namely the Lyndian mode. Having already styled with this new technique on the track Milestones from the album of the same name the year previous, Miles, alongside his band, decided that he was going build a full album around this theory.
Miles’ latest band, made up of Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb was essentially a who-who of session players, a band who, someone with the prowess of Davis, could call upon to play together.
Sessions started on the 2nd of March and ended on the 22nd of April – That’s not to suggest they took that long however, these tracks were recorded in only two sessions – Best to think of them as sides A and B as that’s how they were finally presented.
The bulk of a lot of these sessions appear on just two CDs – Various early takes from the 5 tracks that make up the album all in fantastic quality, a couple of generations away from the masters, maybe and, presumably in the order that they were recorded. When the 60th anniversary issue of the album was released in a sumptuous book with extensive liner notes and it’s three disks, more attempt was made to ‘systemise’ the studio recordings by bunching the sessions in to mini ‘best of’ platters – Thankfully the So What? / Voodoo Records gang are on hand to supplement that with more of the complete sessions – along with studio chatter – than Columbia thought that the collectors deserved.
Firstly 4 takes of ‘Freddie Freeloader’ plus an insert that was flown in later. The engineers seem quite unprepared for Miles’ methodology as he, engrossed in his own world, steps away from the mike following take one, take two similarly breaks down after just a few minutes for unknown reasons.
Take three lasts just over a minute as Miles suggests that one of the band has played a wrong note that’s not what he pre-figured. Take four is the longest take of the track – it belongs with a clipped part of the track that was obviously snipped from the beginning of the track before the tape starts again, once the piece finishes, the band take a beat to take stock before Irving Townsend asks if Miles would like to hear the take. ‘Insert’ is proceeded by a false start and Miles correcting Wynton to go to the final 12 bars of the track. The take ends with a little extra studio chatter.
3 takes of ‘So What!’ follow. Possibly the most recognisable track on the album (therefore chosen as the opener), it is proceeded by around 50 seconds of studio noise, a couple of stray notes, then it gradually falls in to shape.
The take breaks down as Irving notes that, as the track starts so quietly, each click and pop can be heard quite clearly. The band restart again with a different intro, though it breaks down around the 1:30 mark for some reason.
Take three comes around in a couple of parts as the band run through the nascent bass-led intro twice before the rest of the band chime in. This means that the track runs on for around a minute longer than the finished version.
The band wrap up to someone singing “With a sock in my heart”, Paul Chambers, possibly, vocalises a few of the bass notes.
The disk continues with 5 takes of ‘Blue In Green’. The first three takes get no further than around 90 seconds – Beginning with a quick conversation between the recording room and Miles as they assess the numbers in the band, the fourth take is a false start too where the guys in the control room blame a bit of static in the speakers, Miles pretends not to believe them. The fifth and final take ends with a bit of praise from the control room as the final notes fade.
On disk to we begin with 6 takes of ‘Flamenco Sketches’, these start with the Capitol recording ID then the released take of the track (This runs at 9:52 inclusive of the studio chatter), takes 2 – 5 all feature a little extra studio chatter, take 2’s however, is the conversation that was released on the official boxed set. There’s not a lot within the rest apart from mere seconds of back-and-forth between Miles and the control room. Nothing is notably different or as outstanding as a full blown breakdown, things generally peter out for seemingly no reason at all. Take 6 is the ‘alternate’ version that was included on the 2000’s Legacy re-issue of the album.
‘All Blues’ was captured in one take at the sessions and so it’s the version that was presented on the album, we are presented, of course as an in the studio take, presented with the take call at first, a little studio chatter and is also bookended by a little messing about by the band at the end.
I’ve left the “alternate mixes” to the end. The label are proud of these mixes and suggest that they’re an additional selling point to this collection – I’m not aware of the genesis of these versions however, they are more ‘vinyl’ sounding than the versions on the CD themselves – Less wide of separation, they bring the quintet closer together in the studio by pushing the band closer towards the middle of the balance.
The packaging for this release is quite simple, aping the official release with an alternate photo of the front cover, the rear lists the tracks without much detail, the takes are fully listed in the interior sleeve.
An incredible collection for an indelible album – ‘A Kind Of Blue’, the foundation to any burgeoning jazz collection and for collectors like us, this release is a new staple that should also grace your shelves alongside the official release.
Review by Stu