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Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings

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There’s a tendency to consider monaural recordings as stuff for the hoi polloi, what you got back in the late 1950s and early ’60s if you weren’t well-heeled enough to have high-end stereo equipment. But as this nine-disc box makes plain, mono, so far as Miles Davis’ ’56 to ’61 Columbia recordings go, has a crunch and a fullness to it that will essentially banish any stereo sets you have to the back of your record collection.

Anyone interested in jazz, of course, knows the bulk of this material, and there’s a decent chance it had a major role in getting you into the music in the first place. Still, fresh joys await, tops amongst them the handy Jazz Track, one of the rarities of the Davis canon, and something of a twin bill-10 cuts from the Elevator to the Gallows soundtrack, coupled with three songs from the Kind of Blue band, waxed prior to that epochal session. The opening “Générique” presents what is also a sonic theme throughout this box: a lusciously unfolding depth of field as the soundscape seems to pull from every direction, a warmer invite than we’re used to with this material. And while Kind of Blue has taken on a life as jazz’s answer to The Dark Side of the Moon, with each listener having a preferred sonic iteration, there’s more of a live feel to this latest offering, on account of a slight speed correction. Here’s a contender for a definitive version of jazz’s top dog.

The Gil Evans LPs-Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain-possess a newfound luminosity, especially so far as the French horn playing goes on the latter two sets. Miles Ahead, meanwhile, reveals itself as a lush seductress of a disc, the mono approach evening out the tartness that could produce brittle notes at the top end of the stereo mix. Milestones fans will dig the uptick in volume that’s now present; it’s nothing jarring, but there’s more juice now, and a band long on chops sounds newly energized as well. (Red Garland is in tour-de-force mode, his piano playing particularly assertive in the remastering.)

The same idea goes for ‘Round About Midnight-a would-be interregnum album that kick-started one of the key phases of Davis’ career-with Coltrane in particular benefiting from this airier sonic balance, his sax threading in and out of the mix. But perhaps most surprising (and pleasing) is how well 1961’s Someday My Prince Will Come fares. A dark horse of a record amongst the Davis cognoscenti, Someday has always felt at odds with itself, with Trane playing on two cuts and Hank Mobley responsible for tenor duties across the rest of the disc. But there is now so much thump and throb to Mobley’s ever-thoughtful attack-“Pfrancing” absolutely pops out of the speakers-that a reconsideration just about demands itself. Meanwhile, another rarity, Miles and Monk at Newport, is just plain fun, with Miles’ 1958 Independence Day set being a particularly raucous affair. Drummer Jimmy Cobb has himself a high time, dropping bombs as though celebrating this very package.

Originally Published