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The Miles Davis Quintet featuring John Coltrane: All Of You: The Last Tour 1960

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John Coltrane had been an on-and-off member of Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet for five years when the group-filled out at this juncture by pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb-embarked on a European tour in early spring of 1960. Listening to these four CDs, captured during that trek, it’s often difficult to fathom that Trane, who would leave Miles’ organization following these dates, had not yet achieved the legendary status we now associate with him. His playing here, just a year after the recording of Kind of Blue, is bold and instantly recognizable. It also accurately reflects the jazz lore behind these dates: that Trane was spiritually beyond Miles’ music at this point, and created a stir by bringing to his solos the intensity and dissonance with which he’d change jazz in the ’60s.

But he still wasn’t the leader of this band. That much is established during the two extended takes of “So What” that appear on the first disc, recorded at different Stockholm sets on March 21, 1960. Particularly during the second run-through, Coltrane often seems stymied during his solo, repeating himself as if he’s onstage with his quartet at the Vanguard the following year, as if he knows where he wants to go but realizes that this setup isn’t the vehicle that’s going to deliver him to that place.

Davis, on the other hand, is impeccable during that same take, fleshing out his ideas with the sage deliberation that was his trademark, no romantic notions of avant-garde exploration necessary. There are eight different versions of “So What” in all among the set’s 26 tracks, each one breaking the 10-minute mark, and that pattern remains consistent throughout: Trane, blowing for his life, approaching the transcendent but never quite able to break through, and Miles, getting there without seeming to try very hard.

That isn’t to say that there’s anything dull or disappointing about this music, presented in fidelity that is, for the most part, crisp for its vintage but does reveal some rough patches (the tapes are from radio broadcasts and private recordings). Miles’ early quintets rank among the most celebrated outfits in jazz history for a reason, and they didn’t get any better than this one. A nearly 17-minute “If I Were a Bell,” from Zurich, is ripping from start to finish, Kelly’s soloing intense and feisty. All three readings of “All Blues” (two of them married with “The Theme”) showcase the profound separation in spirit between Miles’ band on the road and in the studio under the conceptual guidance of the leader and producer Teo Macero. And “Walkin’,” from the Hague, despite dicey sound quality, simply rages, the rhythm section fired up as if they never want to stop.

As history, this document is the equal of any of the Miles packages Columbia/Legacy has released of late. Musically it ranges from frustrating to sensational, and it’s hard to imagine anyone with more than a passing interest in Miles and Trane not wanting to dig in.

Originally Published