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miles-davis-saturday-night-at-the-blackhawk-front-cover

Discographical Details

Artist: Miles Davis.
Title: In Person: Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco.
Label and Catalogue Number: Columbia CS 8470.
Personnel: Miles Davis (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums).
Side 1: Well You Needn’t; Fran-Dance, So What.
Side 2: Oleo; If I Were A Bell; Neo.
Recording Date: 21-22 April 1961 at The Blackhawk, San Francisco, California, USA.

Selection: If I Were A Bell.

Listening Notes

miles-davis-saturday-night-at-the-blackhawk-rear-cover

As promised, here’s the second part of my brace of postings about the Miles Davis Blackhawk records. Naturally enough, the focus here is on the Saturday Night record but, as previously noted, just how much of this record is really from the Saturday and how much is actually spliced in from the Friday is a matter of debate.

Of course, in reality, that makes little difference because the level of consistency and continuity across the two records in seamless. The same personnel play to the same excellent standard, in the same style across a similar profile of selections. Once again we see Davis choosing to explore familiar material in the shape of tunes like So What, Oleo and If I Were A Bell juxtaposed against new compositions like Fran-Dance and Neo that signal the future direction with the second great quintet. Perhaps the only surprise is the pace at which the band go at So What.

If I were looking for a difference between the two records it would be in a slight shift of emphasis from Mobley’s tenor to Kelly’s piano. On this record, as well as dancing elegantly around the horns for comping duties, Kelly gets ample space for his own soloing. And boy, does he make the most of the opportunity. At this place and at this time, Kelly was just about the perfect pianist for Davis. He could do everything that his employer was looking for and switch between elegant fleet-fingered bop lines, modal chords, bluesy phrases and flat out swinging. Take So What as a prime example – I don’t think Davis would allow any other pianist to shift the style so far from modal to a real swinger without chastisement.

Elsewhere, Rollins’ Oleo is also taken at speed, almost as if the band wanted to show off its proficiency with the tricky theme. The same could also be said of Monk’s Well You Needn’t. That other old favourite, If I Were A Bell is performed at the more usual Davis medium pace and is heralded by Kelly’s Westminster Chimes that echo Garland’s opening on the studio version from Relaxin’. Here too Kelly seems to get as much space as he wants to stretch out – something of a contrast with the way David seemed to ration Mobley’s airtime.

Sprinkled between the bread and butter of these familiar choices, we’re treated to some slightly spicier fillings with the two newer Davis compositions. They have a lot in common but my slight preference is for Neo. The theme seems to be more substantial and gives both musicians and listeners a firmer anchor point to return to after the winding currents of the solos.

For Collectors Only

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My copy of this record is another Columbia six-eye pressing which makes for a nice pair with the Friday Night record with one proviso. Those of you paying careful attention to the label photography will notice that Side 1’s label is not quite a pure six-eye but rather one that is referred to as a six-eye CBS overprinted label. This slightly later label is sometimes a portent of slightly poorer pressings but in this case, I don’t think that applies because Side 2 has a pukka six-eye label, the stamped matrix numbers end with 1B and 1C respectively (Side 1 is stamped XSM53554-1B and Side 2 is stamped XSM5355-1C) and both sides are deep groove (albeit a narrow one) making it an early example of the species. So my interpretation is that we’re looking at a transitional pressing here with not quite enough pedigree to claim first pressing status but not far enough off to be relegated to a second pressing. Is there such a thing as a one-and-a-halfth pressing? Either way, I’m perfectly happy with this mongrel!

The main point of interest here is that although the cover isn’t in perfect shape, the record itself came to me still sealed in its original Columbia polythene bag with perforated edge. In theory this makes for a Mint condition record but in practice, over fifty years sealed for posterity in plastic doesn’t guarantee perfection and I’d actually rate the condition as Near Mint because of a few pops here and there.