Artist: Miles Davis.
Title: Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet.
Label and Catalogue Number: Prestige PRLP 7166.
Personnel: Miles Davis (trumpet); John Coltrane (tenor sax); Red Garland (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); “Philly” Joe Jones (drums).
Side 1: It Never Entered My Mind; Four; In Your Own Sweet Way; The Theme (Take 1).
Side 2: Trane’s Blues; Ahmad’s Blues; Half Nelson; The Theme (Take 2).
Recording Date: 11 May 1956 and 26 October 1956 at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, USA.
On The Record
Selection: Trane’s Blues
It’s time to resume working backwards through the Prestige recordings of the First Great Miles Davis Quintet. The second episode in this reverse chronological ordering is Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. Again, all the offerings on this record are taken from the two sessions in May and October 1956, with the weighting heavily towards the former. In fact, only Half Nelson comes from the October date.
As with the other three records in this set, there’s a combination of aching ballads, up tempo bop tunes and, on this occasion, just one show tune: It Never Entered My Mind from the obscure Rodgers and Hart musical Higher and Higher. But the programming for this LP is a little different in two respects. Firstly, Coltrane and Davis sit out on Ahmad’s Blues to leave the spotlight entirely to the rhythm section; secondly, we’re treated to the only tune that got two takes in these sessions – albeit both short slightly tongue-in-cheek ones.
The tune in question is The Theme, which Davis groups continued to use for many years to signal that a live set was drawing to a close. In keeping with that spirit, Take 1 of this tune closes Side 1 and Take 2 is the climax of Side 2. This fits neatly with the live-in-the-studio approach to all the other tunes recorded at these two famous sessions. However, that isn’t all we hear of The Theme because its used in earnest as the basis for the much more substantial Trane’s Blues which opens Side 2. I enjoy the production decision to leave some of the pre-take studio chat and clatter at the start of this take and then we’re into a prolonged blues that gives ample space for Davis, Coltrane, Garland and Chambers to solo. Before the closing restatement of the theme we get a rare gospel interlude that leaves me wishing that this was a musical aisle Davis had explored further.
The live-in-the-studio feel is also, in part, the motivation for the trio performance of Ahmad’s Blues (named, of course, for Ahmad Jamal – a pianist much admired by Davis at this time). The performance reproduces those points in the band’s live sets when Coltrane and Davis would take a break and leave the stage to the rhythm section. The sleeve notes tell us that it was on the strength of this track that Garland secured his own recording contract with Prestige. It’s certainly a sprightly example of how Garland could apply his elegant swinging style to a trio setting with plenty of fizz added by Jones and depth added by Chambers. My only disappointment is the arco solo by Chambers. I’m not a big fan of bowed bass work in jazz and it’s Chambers’ one annoying foible in an otherwise powerful armoury that he succumbed to this temptation on too many recording sessions for my taste.
The LP’s two straight-ahead bebop tunes, Four and Half Nelson are both Davis compositions which he had already recorded on previous occasions. Four, in particular, gets a scintillating treatment this time round and, if pressed, I think it’s probably the most complete and satisfying take on this record. And that leaves us with the two gentler numbers: It Never Entered My Mind is an almost tear inducingly beautiful feature for Davis and Garland. Their solos are complementary and in sympathy with both each other and the song; In Your Own Sweet Way is a surprising choice of a Brubeck composition given Davis’ oft-quoted opinion that Brubeck couldn’t swing. Yet this tune feels tailor made for the First Great Quintet – perfect tempo, perfect romance, perfect swing.
Between The Lines
The lucky writer who got the honour to pen the liner notes for this classic was one Jack Maher – not a name I’ve seen credited with many liner notes but identified here with suitable creditials as a Contributing Editor for Metronome magazine. Maher’s challenge was to follow the lead set by the estimable Ira Gitler on the previous two Miles Davis Quintet Prestige releases. It’s a baton he picks up with some gusto…
Maher’s opening salvo exploits the technique of setting up juxtapositions about the recording artist as a means to generate tension to grab the reader’s attention. We’re told that Davis is simultaneously “maligned and idolized”; “saint and sinner”. Then almost half of the remaining copy is dedicated to an anecdote about Maher’s eye-witness account of a live performance by the Quintet at the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, New York. It’s not a gratuitous piece of self-aggrandisement but rather a relevant account of the band’s approach to live work, the challenge of seeking inspiration and, most pertinently for this record, a description of how the rhythm section sometimes got the stage to itself and how that could influence the shape of the remainder of the gig. This, of course echoes the programme of the record itself – the use of two takes of The Theme, the extended trio workout on Ahamd’s Blues and Davis’ exquisite performance on It Never Entered My Mind. Maher demonstrates that he’s listened to the record and considered his writing approach with care before drafting the liner notes.
The remainder of the notes cover the familiar territory of discussing the tunes themselves. We get some neat little insights and we’re clued into moments to listen out for in the performances. And then we arrive at the final paragraph and Maher neatly completes the circle by returning to The Theme: “it’s time to finish your beer, pay your check, pick up your change and leave… Like later.”.
For Collectors Only
Side A is a classic Prestige deep groove yellow and black fireworks label with the “203 South Washington Ave., Bergenfield, NJ.” address. The deadwax is inscribed with a hand written “PRLP 7166 A” matrix number and a machine stamped “RVG”. Side B carries the analogous identifying features – the only difference being that the matrix number reads “PRLP 716 B”.
The record registered a meaty 180g when I placed it on the digital scales and offers one other point of interest: this particular example is a flat edge pressing rather than a beaded edge one. I’m not sure that this signifies anything of importance with respect to first pressing identification. My research reveals the existence of both flat edge and beaded edge copies of Workin’ with Bergenfield labels and my current hypothesis is that at least one of the pressing plants used simultaneously by Prestige produced flat edge copies while at least one of the others produced beaded edge copies. The lack of the letters “AB” in the deadwax of my copy suggests that the Abbey pressing plant was one of those responsible for beaded edge copies.
The cover is a lovely clean, sharp cornered laminated example with only a slight tear on the rear slick near where the catalogue number appears at the upper right. In summary then, another fine mono first pressing from the First Great Miles Davis Quintet. As a final sweetener, my records show this one as an eBay purchase from a seller in Sweden – so no prohibitive trans-Atlantic shipping and import duty costs on this beauty!