Selection: Bye bye Blackbird (Fontana Stereo)
Miles Davis (t) Hank Mobley (ts) Wynton Kelly (p) Paul Chambers (b) Jimmy Cobb (d) recorded at “The Blackhawk”, San Francisco, CA, 1st April 21-2, 1961, Columbia engineer Russ Payne (whose other credits include In a Silent Way and Terry Riley In C)
An “amateur” reviewer on Amazon does such a thorough job, I’ll let them repeat the critical appreciation of the amazing Blackhawk sessions:
” For me, this “transitional” group between Miles’ first great quintet with Coltrane and second with Shorter is the equal of the first ensemble and more satisfying than the second. Miles’ chops were never better, and as if to make up for the absence of Coltrane, he plays with uncharacteristic fire and pyrotechnic flare. Jimmy Cobb has by now erased the memory of Philly Joe and fits in perfectly with Chambers and Kelly. No rhythm section ever achieved a greater sense of vitality and vibrancy within the conventional 4/4 walking-bass pattern of mainstream modern jazz.
But for me the most compelling reason for owning the set is Hank Mobley, whose innate lyricism blossoms to a degree not possible on his Blue Note/Van Gelder recordings. His sound is present but never “boosted”; it’s close and personal but at the same time totally natural, in keeping with the spacious acoustics favored by the Columbia engineers. And his playing in this musical context is so heartfelt and inspired, not to mention melodically inventive, that I can’t help but rethink Miles’ later published criticisms of him: perhaps Miles considered him less a drag on the group than a personal threat.
His solo on “Blackbird” is simply astonishing, a rare example of a musician willing to take every risk and hold nothing back in an unguarded, naked pursuit of all the beauty the moment is capable of yielding. Following two choruses by Miles, Mobley goes to work, through four inspired choruses, each phrase exceeding the previous in imagination and intensity until reaching a climax that is not so much arbitrary as the natural outcome of the musical journey itself. For me, it ranks with Coltrane’s “I Want To Talk About You” and Dexter’s “Body and Soul.” Nothing seems the least bit contrived, formulaic, or played for effect (though I’m emotionally spent after each listening)….Best of all, at the end of Mobley’s “Blackbird” solo you can hear someone in the audience shout “Bravo” three times. I’d like to meet that person, if only to express my thanks.”
I would just say Amen to that.
Vinyl: Fontana Stereo/ Philips pressing
Vol. 1 – Friday Night At The Blackhawk STFL.580 (Columbia CL 1669)
Vol. 2 – Saturday Night At The Blackhawk STFL.581 (Columbia CL 1670)
LJC rekindles the mono versus stereo debate, with a head to head comparison between Fontana’s mono and stereo editions (Mono edition previously posted)
Comparethepressing: Bye Bye Blackbird – the mono edition goes head to head with the stereo. Will there be a “winner”?
reminder – FONTANA STEREO edition
Now hear the FONTANA MONO edition
eMCee VGee says: “the mono gives you a strong firm Miles Davis presence, centre stage, the stereo less prominent Miles Davis, surprising. The mono has an attractive balance that is hard to fault, but the stereo captures the live atmosphere at the Blackhawk better. Nothing wrong with having both“.
ComparetheCover: join LJC’s Auguste Renoir de Meerkat (VGee’s seventeenth cousin) for a critical appraisal of the Fontana mono and CBS mono covers:
“Urgh! If the music sounds the same, the same can not be said about the cover. Whatever happened to the CBS cover ? It must have happened to the whole batch, I have seen several, all in the same state – mottled and milky laminate – the manufacturing process for CBS in this case a disaster. I declare Fontana the winner, by a knockout.”
Vol 1 Ebay, and Vol 2 record store
The CBS versions are commonplace and even with the Philips pressed Fontana, many copies in circulation are mono. This is a record prone to wear and tear, because anyone with any taste will have played it to death – the same problem as with Bill Evans records. Assembling the set of both Fontana volumes in stereo and in very good condition has taken some time, but it’s worth it. Time to move on to the Columbia originals?
The Evil Silver Disk
Just a mention for the completist and lover of bonus tracks, the CD box set (two double CDs) issued by Sony on 2003 has the full unedited Friday and Saturday night sets. Oddly, the full length Bye Bye Blackbird appears only in Friday Night’s second set,and a number of other songs are exclusive to each particular night, so it’s worth owning the evil silver disk, of course remastered for CD by Sony. Perhaps some day its worth auditioning the CD against the vinyl (if only as a reminder of how effortlessly superior the presentation of vinyl is). However, never mind the quality, experience the quantity. The entire Friday Night session, or Saturday Night session, exactly as they occurred. That is something special in itself. In the saying attributed to Stalin: quantity has a quality all of its own.
More editions, more opinions pouring in:
Put this one on my list for Santa: Mosiac multiple vinyl box set.
And this of course Columbia mono original six-eye:
AND the Dutch Fontana with alternative cover: