Since they kicked it off in 2011 with the excellent Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Volume 1, Columbia/Legacy’s Bootleg series has presented some amazing, previously unheard live music from the late, great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. And they haven’t just been for diehard jazz fans, either. Each collection has included tons of music for people who love jazz but don’t, for instance, need all four nights of Miles’ electric band playing The Fillmore in 1970, just one or two. But Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 (CD, digital) bucks this trend by not only be all studio recordings, but also by presenting previously unheard music that, for the most part, only the most hardcore of diehard jazz fans would want to listen to more than once…unfortunately.
Recorded over six dates in 1966, 1967, and 1968, Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 features the original session reels and final versions for five of the six songs that now comprise Miles Davis’ epic 1966 album Miles Smiles, as well as two versions of the sixth song that were cut together for that album. Filling out the collection, Freedom Jazz Dance also includes similarly early versions of songs were would later turn up finished on the albums Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Miles In The Sky, and the outtake compilation Water Babies. All of which were recorded by Miles’ second classic quartet — tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams — and newly remastered for this collection.
For the most part, Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 is decidedly more for the curious and those who want to see how these songs were recorded. Take the session reel of “Freedom Jazz Dance,” which kicks off the first disc. While it clocks in at 23:15, it’s not a twenty-three-minute-long version of the song. Instead, it’s twenty-three minutes of Miles talking to the band, the band starting to play the song, and then stopping, and everyone figuring out what they’re going to do.
Admittedly, it is interesting and informative to listen to the 7:14 final version of the “Freedom Jazz Dance” after experiencing the 23:15 long session track. And the same can be said for the 4:41 long master take of “Orbits” after hearing that tune’s 14:44 session reel, and double for the fitful start-and-stop takes of “Footprints” and “Dolores,” both of which are shorter than the final versions.
The same can also be said for the tracks on Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 that aren’t from Miles Smiles: the 11:05-long version of the 8:04-long song “Nefertiti”; the 8:33-long version of the 5:09-long song “Water Babies”; and especially the 19:44-long take on the 6:40-long track “Fall.” But unless you’re trying to learn the fine art of composing a jazz song, it’s not something you’d really want to do that often, or even more than once.
Then there’s the two tracks on Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 that even the most hardcore of hardcore jazz fans may not bother listening to, since they’re just recordings of Miles talking. Sure, Miles had a cool voice, but listening to “Blues In F (Mu Ding),” which has him chatting with saxophonist Wayne Shorter for seven-and-a-half minutes, feels like we’re violating his privacy, while the inclusion of “Play Your Eight,” which is a whopping six seconds long, just seems odd.
While most of the tracks on Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 are only worth listening to once, if that, there are a couple of exceptions that diehard Miles fans will enjoy. Along with the 11:45-long session reel for the song “Circle,” this also has the fifth and sixth takes of that song. The significance being that the final version — which, oddly, is the only track from Miles Smiles not to be included here — is comprised of the sixth take with the ending from the fifth grafted onto it. More importantly, the two takes of “Circle” are different enough from each other that serious but not hardcore Miles Davis fans will want to listen to them more than once.
The Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 also has an “alternate take/take 3” version of the song “Masqualero” that clocks in at about a minute shorter than the final version on the album Sorcerer. As with the two takes of “Circle,” this alternate version of “Masqualero” isn’t radically different from the final version of that song on Sorcerer, or even the alternate take of the tune added to the CD version of that album, but it is different enough from both that it’s also a keeper.
Then there’s “Country Son (rhythm section rehearsal).” Which, as you might imagine, is a version of the song from Miles In The Sky that’s just Hancock, Carter and Williams jamming. While it’s clear that they’re working some things out during this recording, it’s still an enticing and listenable piece of music that, unlike the session takes, stands on its own as a song.
While the Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 is clearly just for the most hardcore of fans, it’s hard not to think they might have some issues with it as well. For starters, it would’ve made more sense to have the finished versions of the Miles Smiles tracks on one disc, the session tracks of those songs on a second, and then either the other stuff on a third or on a separate collection altogether. Because even the most hardcore of fans — especially those who buy this collection on CD, as opposed to digitally — are not going to listen to the session tracks and then the final versions as much as they are the final versions on their own, though they would want the remastered versions of the final songs.
I could also go on a rant about how, instead of this collection, Columbia/Legacy should’ve made a Bootleg collection or four by cleaning up and augmenting such live electric-era albums as Pangea, Agartha, Dark Magus: Live At Carnegie Hall, and In Concert: Live At Philharmonic Hall, but my guess is that they’re already working on that (and if not, please make the check out to Paul Semel…).
In the end, if you’ve wanted to learn about jazz from the master himself, Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance The Bootleg Series Volume 5 is like a college course in jazz composition. But if, like me, you were hoping this collection would have tons of cool and previously unheard music from the Miles Smiles sessions, well, sorry. Sure, the handful of unreleased takes are worth keeping, but it’s hard not to think that there could’ve been a better way to get them.