Miles_davis-live_carnegie_complete_span3 Thelonious_monk-live_at_the_it_club_complete_span3 Dexter_gordon-live_at_carnegie_hall_span3
January/February 1999

Miles Davis
Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall The Complete Concert
Columbia Jazz
Thelonious Monk
Live at the It Club -- Complete
Columbia Jazz
Dexter Gordon
Live at Carnegie Hall
Columbia Jazz

Say what you will about their ongoing spotty performance with new releases and artist development, but old-line corporate labels like Columbia will always be major players just on the strength of their catalogs and the depth of their vaults. Most labels could issue a cache comparable to Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall.

The Complete Concert, Thelonious Monk's Live at the It Club-Complete, and Live At Carnegie Hall (the only single-disc package of the lot), and rest on their laurels for the remainder of the year. But, Columbia can crank out this volume of high-quality, if not bona fide historical, material several times a year with one arm tied behind its back. And, on the basis of these three titles, they're doing it well.

Issued for the first time in its entirety, Davis' '61 Carnegie Hall concert documents a very public step in the trumpeter's fascinating transition from cool icon to bold brinksman. Fittingly, the program features Davis' quintet with Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb, with and without Gil Evans' 21-piece orchestra. Drawing mostly upon material included on Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain (most notably a moving version of "En Aranjuez con Tu Amor"), Davis recapitulates his recent glories with a hint of a new edge. Yet, it's quintet tracks like "Walking," "Oleo," and "No Blues," where Miles really shakes off his well-coifed persona and blows with a seemingly new-found passion. While it's tempting to try and connect the historical dots, and proclaim such performances as first steps towards the contours he perfected with his mid-'60s quintet, Miles' life-long knack of tapping the pulse of the jazz scene suggests that he was riding hard bop's cresting second wave, of which an important contingent-the Mobley-Kelly-Chambers nucleus of such Blue Note classics as Mobley's Soul Station and Workout-was in his employ. It is the combination of cool residue and sparks of new heat that continues to make this concert so engaging.

Generally, the criticism of Monk's Columbia tenure is misguided, as it never compensates for the label's method of constructing albums from regularly scheduled studio sessions and edited live performances; it's no wonder that they ended up with albums riddled with conservative readings of early compositions and choppy live performances. Had they just released more complete performances at gigs like the '64 stand at Los Angeles' It Club, this period of Monk's career would have far more weight (here's a telling index: eleven of the 19 tracks on Live at t he It Club-Complete appear for the first time in unedited form). Most of these rollicking performances compare very well with Riverside's live dates. Monk is at his playful best, slyly slipping

"Thelonious" into "Rhythm-a-ning;" he also digs deep into his book for capering takes of "Gallop's Gallop," "Teo," and "All The Things You Are." His jape-like comping constantly provokes Charlie Rouse to his flinty best. While Larry Gales' restored solos won't elevate him into the pantheon of bassists, his teamwork with Ben Riley is always on the mark. Not only does Live At The It Club-Complete flesh out an intriguing chapter of Monk's career, it is a testament of his ability to rock the house.

It's a measure of the depth of Columbia's vaults that the quartet portion of Gordon's '78 Carnegie Hall concert is only now being issued for the first time. The new, hard swinging versions of "Secret Love" and "The End of a Love Affair," and the smoldering take on "More Than You Know," are excellent. On all three tracks, Gordon is the epitome of effortless fluid invention. Equally impressive is the empathetic interplay of George Cables, Rufus Reid, and Eddie Gladden, who in the course of 45 minutes, secure a place in the Gordon legacy equal to that of his classic Copenhagen-based units. The two duels with Johnny Griffin first issued on Great Encounters-a smoking "Blues Up and Down" and a thick rich slice of "Cheesecake" -top things off in grand style. If this year's polls had a category for new release/reissue hybrids, Live At Carnegie Hall would win hands down.

Originally published in January/February 1999
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