Miles Davis: Seven Steps to Heaven (1963) Columbia

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Artists

On the East Coast – Miles Davis (trumpet) George Coleman (tenor saxophone) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Tony Williams (drums) Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC, May 14, 1963

Selection: Joshua (Feldman) Recorded New York (new stereo rip)

On the West Coast – Miles Davis (trumpet) Victor Feldman (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Frank Butler (drums)  Columbia Studios, Los Angeles, CA, April 16, 1963

Selection: Basin Street Blues (new stereo rip)

Music

Seven Steps is not one of the great Davis works, of which there are many to choose from, however it is nonetheless an interesting record, catching Miles in transition from the first to the second great quintet and everything ushered in by that change. You get a lot of Miles –  pensive, tender, brooding –  accompanied by sympathetic top class musicians. In the East Coast sessions you also get a glimpse of what is to come, the Hancock-Williams-Carter rhythm section but not yet the shift in centre of gravity created by the arrival of Shorter, spurring Miles to greater things, the alchemy in which  the product becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

To gain an understanding of how something works, it can be instructive to examine its component parts. (I did this once at the age of seventeen to my motorcycle engine. On rebuilding it, I found myself with three parts left over, indicating engines and I were never going to get on). You can better understand the contribution of Shorter from his absence. Coleman was competent journeyman but he was not a force that would challenge Davis. Whilst Feldman demonstrates artistry in the great tradition, you hear the percussive attack of Hancock, already making his mark.

This album is of primary interest to those following the evolution of modern jazz,  and in the evolution of Miles Davis from the early to the later Sixties, which is a subject in his own right. It’s also got some great music, which comes as a bonus.

Vinyl: Columbia CS 8851 two-eye stereo, matrix indicates fifth/ ninth lacquer cuttings

Recorded in New York and Hollywood, East meets West, and released simultaneously in 1963 in the US and Canada. Canada?   It is a Canadian pressing. Did they press good vinyl in Canada? Canadians are Americans some of whom speak French, unlike the Americans I hear often in France, who merely speak loud. And use the word like a lot. Seems an OK pressing, perhaps a little mellow.

Some of the sessions seem to me somewhat haphazard in their mixing and instrument balance – a surprise for generally impeccable Columbia 360 degree sound stereo editions. George Coleman is hidden in the background while Miles and Hancock dominate, perhaps excessively, in the front line. Perhaps listening to the mix Davis and Hancock felt they liked it that way. However it varies from track to track, may be its just me.

For the sound engineer

It is not by chance US Columbia are usually a treat for audiophile ears. The technical notes are a feast for the sound engineer: pure microphone porn. C12 and U47 are superstars I know, but Columbia have brought along a lot of “new friends” A Sony 37A and an Electrovoice 655C?  And in the Scully lathe, Westrex or Ortofon cutters eh?  On a Dansette portable record player, do you think we could tell? The early Sixties were an era that celebrated progress through science and technology. And of course Marketing the results. Only now with real hi fi can that 360 degree sound be unlocked.

LJC-HipHop-DJ-siThere are only two kinds of information: information you can actually use to improve choices you can make, (“I’ll have that pressing over there, not the Ortofon cut, the one next to it, cut with the Westrex“)and information you can not use but which allows you to act a complete smartarse:  “of course, the final transfer quality is down to the choice of lathe cutting head”.

I’ve blown up the technical liner notes so you can savour the information, and decide how you might use it. Or not.

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The Label:  360 sound black text and arrows

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Collectors Corner

Source: from the collection that recently arrived, and quickly went, in a North London record store. Word got around – they are not slow off the mark, these jazz collectors “up North (London)”.

North-London-Vintage-Record-Store-Queue

Slim pickings, but I managed to grab a few remaining nice records before they had all gone. The Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus Bergenfield came from the same collection, which I guess left a smile on the face of quite a few collectors.

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13 thoughts on “Miles Davis: Seven Steps to Heaven (1963) Columbia

  1. I actually have a white label promo of this record. I was lucky enough to find it at a local shop a few years back

  2. Gentlemen, proper stereo rips now in place. Apologies, but due from Microsoft, new owners of Skype. USB turntable and webcam for Skype share the microphone settings in Windows. Usual corporate arrogance, one presumes they have a monopoly, and a software update messed everything up. Took over an hour to untangle the two, and resolve the resource conflict and settings. Stereo now re-enabled.

  3. I have a beautiful copy of this, but I have a small complaint. This and My Funny Valentine, I find Miles’ trumpet so loud in the mix that I have to listen to these records at low volumes. When he hits a high note, it’s too much.

    • It doesn’t help the rip is faulty. Somehow the ripper has started to put the one channel onto both sides. The chief suspect is a recent Skype software update, which has over-ridden the microphone settings of the PC, unasked. It’s Microsoft. Some other stereo rips in preparation have turned out mono.

  4. Sounds like only the left channel is, for whatever reason, coming out of both channels here. George Coleman’s tenor is strong from the right channel on my LP, and also on Spotify and iTunes, FWIW.

    • I am travelling right now but will tinker when back. It sounded “normal” on the big hifi, so I suspect there is something gone adrift with the microphone properties setup on the PC. Thanks for checking it out. Some way to go for “Jack the Ripper”

  5. great pick! since i discovered it 35 years ago, it was first overshadowed by more flamboyant sessions but it grew on me to become one of my fave davis classics because of its intimate/relaxed feeling, especially the sax-less californian takes where vic feldman is really amazing. actually, are there any unrealeased tracks from this dates you’re aware of?

    • There are those two extra tracks you may be familiar with: One is the California version of “So Near, So Far” (found on “Directions”) and the other is “Summer Night” (issued as part of “Quiet Nights”). Apart from that, I don’t know about any unreleased tracks.

      • Oh, sorry! I didn’t think of “Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings Of Miles Davis 1963-1964” because I wasn’t willing to buy the CD set at the time when it appeared. But this is obviously the one to go for.

  6. Hi LJC. Strange thing that your rip is not in stereo, though the original LP is a very beautiful stereo recording. Seven Steps may not be – as you say – one of the great Davis works, but it is still among my favourites. Just listen to that Vic Feldman piano on “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” and Frank Butler’s exceptional drumming on this particular track. He was never seen as one of the great masters of the instrument, but his playing here is so beautiful. And don’t let’s make a mistake about unsung hero George Coleman, who was to play at the fabulous Lincoln Center concert the following year. Thanks for drawing attention to this minor gem.

    • You are quite right – the rip plays in mono. Nothing intentional – the album says “stereo” and as far as I know it was ripped in the usual fashion. and should be stereo. Either the record isn’t what it says, or there are gremlins at work in the Control Panel settings, which haven’t changed as far as I know.
      Mystery. Won’t have access to vinyl for a few days but I will check out what is going on.

  7. That blurb on Columbia’s recording equipment and process is priceless! I had never seen an album with that on it before.

    It’s interesting to think that Rudy Van Gelder was actually a significant step ahead of a studio/label as major as Columbia in that he saved a generation by getting all the levels right going to the session tape and using that for cutting the lacquers. Nonetheless and needless to say, Columbia’s recordings sound phenomenal across the board.

  8. Poor George sounds as if he’s been locked out the studio and he’s playing in the car park. Also sad to see the mighty German submarine U47 being used as a microphone. At least it was big enough to record the saxophonist outside.

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