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Miles Davis Quintet: Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet

Miles Davis Quintet: Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet

Analogue Productions  CPRJ 7129 SA

Mono Hybrid

Jazz


Miles Davis Quintet:
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Red Garland (piano)
John Coltrane (tenor saxophone)
Paul Chambers (bass)
Philly Joe Jones (drums)


Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet is in every way a masterpiece. When Davis the trumpeter (1926-1991) had formed the band in 1955, his colleagues — tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones — were not considered jazz-world A-listers. And before conquering his narcotics addiction earlier in the ’50s, Davis had seen his once-promising career go into eclipse. By 1956, however, his sound, especially when muted, was an achingly personal counterpart to the vocals of Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. Relaxin’ (plus its Prestige companions, Miles, Cookin’, Workin’, and Steamin’) reestablished Davis, and elevated his quintet as the gold standard of small groups.

This set is called Relaxin’ because of the ballad performances in several different bright tempos. From medium-bounce to crisply up, Relaxin’ remains one of Davis’s sunniest outings, a prime example of one of the outstanding ensembles of the 20th century reaching the summit of their artistry.

Originally released in 1957.

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All
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Recording
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Analogue recording
Tracks
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1. If I Were A Bell
2. You're My Everything
3. I could Write A Book
4. Oleo
5. It could Happen To You
6. Woody'n You
Reviews (1)
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Review by Mark Werlin - August 11, 2015

"Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet" was one of four Prestige LPs compiled from marathon recording sessions at Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack studio on May 11 and October 26, 1956. Relaxin' was previously issued on a 2004 Fantasy SACD and a Universal Japan single-layer SACD.

I have long familiarity with Relaxin', beginning with the Prestige double LP reissue, Cookin' and Relaxin', mastered by Van Gelder in the 1970s. Relaxin' has been a constant in my collection through many life changes and audio upgrades, and my appreciation of its musical and sonic qualities has only deepened over time.

BACKGROUND
To enable signing with Columbia while still under contract to Prestige, Miles' lawyer negotiated to deliver four additional LPs worth of material to Bob Weinstock which Prestige could issue after Miles' Columbia debut, thereby benefitting from Columbia's generous advertising budget. The May and October sessions were called by the leader like club sets, one take per tune in most instances, to get as many performances on tape in the least amount of studio time. Three members of the quintet, Jones, Garland and Coltrane, were heroin addicts. Coltrane's career progress and musical development was severely impeded by drug use.

At 30, an age when most of his contemporaries were well established and younger players were gaining the attention of the jazz world, Coltrane was repeatedly—and unfavorably—compared to tenor giant Sonny Rollins. Only a few weeks prior to the October 26 session, Sonny had recorded the astonishing Sonny Rollins: Rollins Plays For Bird at RVG's studio. Rollins' genius was as manifest as Coltrane's was concealed. 'Trane was still six months away from kicking heroin and a subsequent radical artistic transformation.

MUSIC
Miles was fed up with the band members' drug use and was on the verge of firing them. His impatience is evident: he counts down tempos with a click of his fingers and whistles to stop a take of "You're My Everything" (ordering Red Garland to play block chords on the intro). The light-hearted tone of "If I Were a Bell", "You're My Everything", and "I Could Write a Book" belies the unhappy atmosphere in which they were performed. Yet in spite of the tension in the studio, these performances exemplify the blend of propulsive rhythm and lyrical phrasing that Miles had sought to engender in the Quintet's sound.

SOUND
For purposes of this review, the new Analogue Productions SACD mastered by Kevin Gray will be compared to the Fantasy SACD mastered by Joe Tarantino, and the 1998 JVC XRCD mastered by Alan Yoshida.

When SACDs first appeared on the US market, I acquired a dozen Fantasy reissues of jazz classics already in my collection. In nearly all instances, I felt the Fantasy SACDs sounded better than the RBCDs. But when I heard Alan Yoshida's XRCD of Relaxin' (VICJ-60125), which in my view, is sonically superior to the Fantasy SACD, I had to reconsider my preconceptions about the superiority of SACD as a medium for jazz reissues. The XRCD brings out low-level details in Philly's brushwork, extends Paul Chambers' bass to depths not heard on the Fantasy SACD, projects Miles' trumpet without glare, and deepens the mono soundstage well back from the loudspeakers. For years, the XRCDs of Relaxin' and Coookin' were my references, not only for those particular sessions, but for RVG's engineering at that time.

Kevin Gray's new SACD transfer, like the XRCD, excels in retrieval of low-level detail and accurate reproduction of room sound. Listening to the two SACD versions back to back, I found the Analogue Productions reissue more engaging than the Fantasy. In Gray's transfer the close-mic'd muted trumpet sounds rich, detailed and without harshness. No contest. But compared to the XRCD, there are sonic trade-offs: the piano sound on the AP SACD has more 'analogue warmth' than the XRCD, but the plucked bass does not slam as firmly. Overall, the Analogue Productions reissue offers a slightly less forward presentation than the XRCD, but has the edge in more realistic instrument sound. I want to stress that these are subtle and subjective distinctions. Listeners with very different audio systems may rate those distinctions as more or less significant.

While there are other titles in Fantasy's SACD series that can still be recommended, they are out of print, and some command high prices on the used market. For the titles that have already returned or will return to print in AP's mono and stereo Prestige series, prospective collectors should have no reservations about purchasing these high quality new transfers.

The May and October 1956 sessions captured the Miles Davis Quintet at a high level of group performance. Kevin Gray's transfer vividly conveys the lyricism of the music, and the tension of the event.

Copyright © 2015 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net

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Comments (2)
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Comment by Andrew Midgley - February 16, 2016 (1 of 2)

Does anyone else notice what sounds to be tape degradation on track 3, around 0:24-0:38 on this Analogue Productions release? I just happened to be comparing it to the Fantasy SACD and noticed this. I haven't listened closely to all tracks back and forth, but nothing else has jumped out at me thus far like this one section has.

Comment by Mark Werlin - February 16, 2016 (2 of 2)

After the snare hit and break at 0:24, when the band resumes, I can hear a little bit of distortion from around 0:38 - 0:45. Tape is from 1956 and has been transferred numerous times, so not surprising that there would be some oxide loss.

Edit: Prompted by Andrew Midgley's comment, I listened again more closely to the entire third track on the SACD ("I Could Write a Book") and also to the JVC XRCD. To my ears, that track sounds inferior to the other tracks from the October 26, 1956 session. Perhaps only a later generation copy was extant, or for some reason the tape suffered more deterioration than the other segments from that session. Listen to the first minute or two of "Book", then skip ahead to Track 4 ("Oleo") and you'll hear a significant improvement.