Since launching in 2011’s with Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1, the Miles Davis Bootleg series has presented largely unheard (save for among hardcore collectors) and mostly complete live shows from some of the iconic jazz trumpeter’s best groups. But now, with Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4 (CD, digital), this series is switches gears, and instead of being dedicated to a single band, this has Miles playing eight shows with seven different groups over eight different years of the titular festival.
photo by Hank Parker
Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4 kicks off, appropriately enough, with the July 17, 1955 show during which Miles jammed with pianist Thelonious Monk, bassist Percy Heath, saxophonists Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan, and drummer Connie Kay. Originally broadcast on the radio, this three-song, twenty-five minute session wasn’t just impromptu, but fortuitous as well, as it led to Miles being signed by Columbia Records. Though while it is of historical importance, it’s also beautifully intricate and heartfelt, something it shares with most of this collection.
While it starts off with an all-star jam, the rest of Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4 has Miles playing with whatever his current group happened to be. On the rest of the first CD, for instance, he’s joined by the same band that made Kind Of Blue — saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb — for a nearly forty-minute-long show from July 17, 1955.
Things get even better on the second disc of Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4, which presents the classic quintet of Miles, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams on July 4, 1966 and July 2, 1967. Both are excellent performances, sonic-ly and performance-wise, showing without a doubt that this was the best band Miles ever led.
While the first half of Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4 has Miles playing acoustic, the third and fourth discs explore his electric period. First up, a July 5, 1969 show that happened three weeks before In A Silent Way was released, and six weeks before Bitches Brew was recorded, and has him playing “It’s About That Time” from the former and “Sanctuary” and “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” from the latter. Though because this performance just has him playing with Chick Corea on electric piano, Dave Holland on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums, and not the rest of the people who joined him for those albums (most notably guitarist John McLaughlin and conga player Don Alias), this twenty-five minute-long set has a rather intriguing, stripped down approach compared to how he played them on the aforementioned albums or during other concerts.
As for a more typical Miles electric set, Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4 has two of them as well. First up, chronologically, is a seven song/eighty minute October 22, 1971 show on which he’s joined by sax man Gary Bartz, electric pianist and organist Keith Jarrett, electric bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Ndugu Leon Chandler, and percussionists Don Alias and James Mtume Forman. But this is not only the longest show in the collection, it’s also the best of the three electric performances, as it has Miles and his cohorts really flexing their musical muscles.
The 1971 show is followed by the almost-as-good November 1, 1973 performance that has him playing with many of the same musicians that would later appear on 1974’s Dark Magus: Dave Liebman, soprano sax, tenor sax, flute; Pete Cosey, guitar, percussion; Reggie Lucas, guitar; Michael Henderson, electric bass; Al Foster, drums; James Mtume Forman, percussion. It’s a solid show, but, unfortunately, not as good as the one on Magus.
Finally, there’s the single track “Mtume,” from July 1, 1975 on which he’s joined by a rather different band than was captured on the live Pangea and Agartha albums five months prior. Though without the rest of this show (which has circulated in bootleg circles for years), this lone tune is more a curiosity than anything else.
As you’d expect if you’ve heard any of the previous Bootleg collections, the sound quality on Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4 is, for the most part, impeccable. Only the November 1, 1973 show has any “issues,” and I put the word in quotes because there are only a couple moments that sound distorted, and it’s only because a microphone was overwhelmed by the band wailing full-throttle.
Sadly, this is not the only “issue” I had with Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4. Though, as before, “issue” is in quotes for a reason.
For starters, most of the shows collected here, even the complete ones, are kind of short. So, in the interest of space and money, they’re often presented two to a disc. Which, of course, won’t mean much if you listen to music on your computer, phone, or iPod, and can thus separate them. But for those who still prefer CDs and stereos, and who like to organize their CDs chronologically, it’ll require a bit of reconfiguring with the CD burner.
Though the producers should be commended for putting the October 22, 1971 on Disc 4, and thus out of chronological order, so it can be, as they say in the liner notes, “presented without interruption.”
There are also times when the brevity of the shows on Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4 render them as more as a historical artifact than a collection of music you’ll want to listen to for the rest of your life. For instance, while both shows by the classic Miles, Shorter, Williams, Carter, Hancock quintet are exemplary, the 1967 one is just half-an-hour. Which means you’re better off getting the aforementioned Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1, which has two much longer shows.
Finally, while most of the tracks on Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4 haven’t been commercially available before, there are some that have been released before. As a result, you should know that the July 3rd, 1958 show is also available on both At Newport 1958 and Miles & Monk At Newport, while the three songs from July 5, 1969 on Disc 3 were available on Bitches Brew Live.
In the end, Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975 The Bootleg Series Vol 4, like the previous Bootleg sets before it, is a wonderful collection of amazing music. While you’ll probably only add a couple of these shows to your personal collection — I’m keeping the 1966 and 1971 concerts — every show, especially the epic jam on the first disc, is worth a listening.