Selection: ‘Round about Midnight. (T. Monk)
Miles Davis (t) Barney Wilen (ts) Rene Urtreger (p) Pierre Michelot (b) Kenny Clarke (d) recorded live at “Concertgebouw”, Amsterdam, Holland, December 8, 1957
Russia launches Sputnik I, first earth-orbiting satellite: the Space Race commences; Gov. Orval Faubus launches stinging attack on Mingus’s bass-playing technique; West Side Story debuts on Broadway: Shakespeare sues for plagiarism, Officer Krupke files for defamation, Maria sells story to media.
April Fool over with, now its time for jazz, with a French accent.
In Paris at the end of 1957 to record the soundtrack for the Louis Malle film Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaude, Miles did a little touring with the Rene Urtreger quartet, featuring the impossibly young Barney Wilen on tenor, age twenty. Can you imagine a more daunting task than kicking off your tenor solo to the ripple of audience applause for Miles? Wilen aquits himself remarkably.
In between recording the film score and the Amsterdam concert, Miles was dating Juliette Greco and gigging at the Club Paris St Germain ( Ed – isn’t that a football team?) It was here Miles perfected his battery of excuses for not addressing the audience – “My music speaks for itself” when what he meant was “I don’t speak any French”, which was just as well, given his habitual use of the m-word in every sentence “I don’t speak very good English either“. Though Miles protested he had to return to New York that December, without Juliette Greco, if he had stayed he might have learned some manners (turns to Reader’s Digest Popular Psychology part-work for insight)
Vinyl: Italian label Jazz O.P. OMS 7003 (1984)
Very sweet and smooth transfer onto vinyl, which really took me by surprise, open and spacious ambience. Not sure why I checked out the etchings as there is nothing to see on such an occasion.
The liner notes don’t exactly overwhelm you with information. For that you need to turn to the Evil Silver Disk…(Here’s one I prepared earlier)
Imagine if CDs were more interesting artefacts. I even found a site where the fan lovingly photographed the evil silver disk, in this manner. How sad is that? It’s digital. It has little or nothing to tell you, though the reflections are pretty .
Selection – it has to be the same track as the vinyl, for comparison: ‘Round About Midnight (T Monk)
Reminder: Vinyl presentation
Now, The Evil Silver Disk struts its stuff. I have no predetermined views. It is “modern” vinyl and not vintage vinyl, it may well have come from the same digital source, who knows. The CD seems to have a different pitch, according to my rip. For fun, run the two rips simultaneously…
The vinyl sounds better played through a high-end system, in a way the CD doesn’t, but your mileage may vary.
The Liner notes
At last, some value added information. Green font on yellow background. Good choice. All that time at Art School has really paid off here. Retyping a couple of paragraphs from Miles autobiography. But its more than the Italian Jazz O.P. release gives you. No bonus tracks, the vinyl shaves off some of the audience applause to save a few grooves.
Collectors Corner: What to make of Miles Davis?
The CD insert quotes from Miles autobiography were timely. I have been listening a lot to Davis recently, and a few days in France without Internet access gave me a chance to catch up on some reading, which happened to be the autobiography of Miles Davis kindly passed to me by an American cousin.
I found the opening chapters offer little interest (likewise, Art Pepper’s Straight Life). Miles was born at an early age, as was everyone. The next two hundred pages are essential to following the comings and goings of all the musicians who for over two decades crossed Miles path during the rise and fall of bebop. Absolutely riveting. But from 1968 onwards my interest flagged and rapidly disappeared, as it does with his music, and skipped most of the last 100 pages. Do I care that Davis played the part of a pimp in an episode of Miami Vice in 1986? No, should I?
What it confirmed for me is that a musician, even a great musician, is no more and no less than that. His opinion on other subjects is of no special merit. Indeed, because of the peculiar demi-monde in which the musician travels, with its attendant adulation, may be less trustworthy. You don’t have to understand Miles, or even like him, in order to get his music. You can even dislike him, as a person: his reading of events is often lame, ill-informed, and prejudiced. As is many people’s. He remains a great musician and group leader. Reading his book cured me of any lingering sentiment, an ill-advised and ultimately futile attempt to connect great musical ability to “a great person”.
On the upside, it has saved me an enormous amount of time, dispensing with the need to read all the other jazz biographies. This may be sacrilege to fans of Davis, but I Iike to think, taking him at his word, that Miles Davis would not have given a damn what I or anyone else thought of him. And that is probably as good a place to leave it as any.
Postscript: ‘Round About Midnight
Mindful of the hundreds of times Monk’s magnificent jazz anthem ‘Round About Midnight has been recorded, I reflected which was the best interpretation? You may have your own, but my favourite is the duet between Monk and Gerry Mulligan from Mulligan Meets Monk. Two truly great musicians, each with entirely different voices, came together to create something of rare beauty. It’s uncompromisingly Monk, and uncompromisingly Mulligan, just two instruments, a magnificently dark and smokey mood that wrings raw and sometimes near unbearable emotion from every note of this greatest of Monk compositions. Truly Great.
An even better place to leave it now.