Miles Davis: Milestones......
Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2084
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
"Philly" Joe Jones
Miles Davis created just one studio album with his original sextet. He made every moment count. Pairing with Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, the trumpeter not only laid the groundwork for the modalism that immediately followed but tailored a genuine modern-jazz masterwork laden with performances among the most explosive of his distinguished career. Due to its sandwiched position between the more famous ‘Round About Midnight and epochal Kind of Blue, Milestones remains, for too many music lovers, an overlooked classic.
Milestones has been restored to mono for the first time as to expose the record’s standing as one of the all-time great jazz efforts. Mastered from the original master tapes, and in mono for the first time ever, this unsurpassed digital edition grants each musician their own space in a well-defined, broadened soundstage. Colors, shapes, and dimensions appear in the manner they do when beheld from behind a studio-control room’s window.
Davis’ burnished trumpet? Rendered in three-dimensional perspective, coaxing his mates out to play with unburdened zest and commotion. Coltrane’s trademark saxophone? Witness it in life-size proportion, his solos working in tandem with and against the driving rhythms. Garland’s swaggering piano lines? Visualize the 88 keys as he hits full stride, the chords and fills slithering around skeletal frameworks.
If anything, Milestones is as famous for its title track as the players that produced it. The launching pad for many of Davis’ (and later, his contemporaries’) improvisational flights, the singular piece invites the tessellated explorations Coltrane would forever chase as well as the headliner’s argyle solo work, who broaches territories that far exceed what he had done with his bop-rooted past. Every song is a highlight, whether it’s the bravado “No Jackle,” featuring a hot-foot pace and bebop strains, or “Sid’s Ahead,” which continues the album’s blues theme while tossing around edgy harmonics and inside-out structures.
Then there’s “Straight, No Chaser,” the absolutely definitive rendition of Thelonious Monk’s signature piece. Coltrane’s marbled playing pulls at the tune’s lobed borders, Adderley takes liberty with solos, and Davis dances around his mates, at one point quoting “When the Saints Go Marching In” while demonstrating his knowledge of tradition and eye towards the future. A milestone if there ever was. And now, in resplendent mono sonics.
Review by Mark Werlin - August 11, 2015
"Milestones", recorded in two sessions in February and March of 1958, represents a transition in the course of Miles Davis’ restless musical journey.
The previous year, Miles had fired his sidemen John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones out of frustration with their heroin habits and alcohol-induced unreliability. Operating outside the restrictions of the quintet framework, Miles collaborated with Gil Evans to create “Miles Ahead”, a themed orchestral recording that enjoyed critical and popular success.
Later in the year, Miles witnessed the transformation of the now drug-free John Coltrane during Coltrane’s tenure with Thelonious Monk. All the potential that Miles had heard in 'Trane’s sound was now being realized. Miles tendered an offer to rejoin the band, and ‘Trane warily accepted, not yet in a financial position to manage a full-time group of his own.
The reconvened quintet of 1955-1957 were joined by Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, a music teacher from Florida who, on arriving in New York in 1955, had rapidly distinguished himself as one of the most important new voices on the alto sax. With the expanded lineup, the sextet recorded two Davis originals, the modal composition “Milestones”, “Sid’s Ahead” (which was previously recorded for Prestige under the title “Weirdo”), a well-known Monk tune, “Straight, No Chaser”, a composition by Jackie McLean, “Dr. Jackle” (titled “Dr. Jekyll” on the original LP and this SACD reissue), “Two Bass Hit” by Dizzy Gillespie and John Lewis, and a traditional folk song, “Billy Boy”, played by the piano trio of Garland, Chambers and Jones. More material and additional takes from the February and March sessions are documented on the box set Miles Davis and John Coltrane, The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961.
“Milestones” has been issued twice on SACD by Sony Japan, in hybrid and single-layer editions. The Mobile Fidelity edition was mastered by Rob LoVerde from the original mono master tape played back on a Tim de Paravicini-modified Studer half-track deck with EAR tube electronics in MoFi’s Sebastopol, California facility. I have not heard the Japanese SACDs and cannot present a comparison.
The MoFi SACD offers a dramatically different listening experience to Bob Belden’s recreated stereo mix on the box set. The Belden mix, created from high-resolution transfers of the original multi-track session tapes, presents a wide sound canvas and extended high end. By contrast, the MoFi mono SACD draws the listener more deeply into the studio space. Drums and cymbals sound true to their analogue source. Improved low-end extension is clearly audible in Paul Chamber’s bass solo on “Side’s Ahead”. Low-level details in the piano emerge with careful listening. Trumpet and saxophones are focused, clear but never blaring. Cannonball Adderley’s ebullient solo in “Milestones” and John Coltrane’s articulation in “Sid’s Ahead” are models of improvisational construction and saxophone technique.
If the Belden set—which I wholeheartedly recommend—was a best effort at extracting the highest quality signal possible from aging tapes using modern technological tools, the MoFi SACD is a respectful and authentic representation of the artists’ original vision. A liner note from the MoFi production team reads: “Any sonic artifacts present are a product of the original master tape. Attempts to eliminate them would have negatively impacted the integrity of the presentation.”
Acrimony during the recording sessions led to Miles’ decision once again to fire members of the group. Philly Joe was replaced by Jimmy Cobb and Red Garland by the innovative young pianist Bill Evans. One year later, this sextet recorded “Kind of Blue”, a further milestone on the artistic journey of Miles Davis.
Copyright © 2015 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net