Blame it on the momentum of the millennium-change--or perhaps the self-congratulatory nature of the 1999 Duke Ellington centennial. Whatever: Jazz increasingly has morphed into a music obsessed with its own handsome history, like a helpless Narcissus staring into a mirror--and seeing a younger version of himself brimming with vitality.
"Those were the good old days," ol' Narc' laments.
And he's right. So who can resist the temptation to look backward when another one of these irresistible multidisc retrospectives enters your life with the audacious fire of an old flame at a class reunion?
If last year's reclamation project was the Duke, then 2000 belongs to trumpeter Miles Davis. Davis, jazz's Prince of Darkness, is the subject of a lavish new six-CD (or 9-LP) box set. Alongside the Louis Armstrong's Hot 5 and Ellington's orchestra of the early '40s, the star-studded Davis combos heard on Miles Davis and John Coltrane will forever be counted among the finest bands ever. The personnel was ever-changing due to clashing egos and bad habits, but at one time or another the quintet/sextet included future hall-of-famers like saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, pianist Bill Evans and hyperkinetic drummer Philly Joe Jones. And always, there was the rippling, angular tenor of John Coltrane, whom Davis plucked from relative obscurity and then provided a forum--the band--for his mate's certain success.
Miles was the yin: pretty notes, spare delivery, trumpet as butterfly. 'Trane, the yang: raw power, warp speed, saxophone as stinging insect. Yet together, they embodied the perfect marriage, heaven's own little horn section.
Among other jewels, the set contains all six cuts of Kind of Blue (1959), the quintessential Desert Island session, several seldom heard outtakes and a spellbinding version of "On Green Dolphin Street" with back-to-back-to-back solos by Davis, 'Trane and Cannon that'll make ya break out in goose bumps. The music shouts, "Push repeat."