Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings

By Fine, Thomas | ARSC Journal, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings


Fine, Thomas, ARSC Journal


Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings. Columbia/Legacy 88883756642 (9 CDs).

As soon as this smartly packaged 9-CD box was released, carping began about "yet another Miles Davis reissue from Sony." All of this material has been reissued in stereo, some of it multiple times and some of it in expanded editions with extra takes and assorted other audio flotsam and jetsam. So it is worthwhile to start by examining the raison d'etre for this product.

In his booklet notes, jazz writer and blogger Marc Myers lays out the proposition early: "With this boxed set, nine of Davis' earliest Columbia albums have been remastered in original mono--the first format most record buyers heard when they purchased his LPs in the late 1950s and early 1960s." So, first of all, Sony's A&R folks are touching on a key trend today: "authenticity." The CDs are sequenced as the original albums, with original (albeit miniaturized) cover art and liner notes (alas, the liner notes are not reprinted in the booklet, so bring a magnifier and patience if you wish to read them on the 5x5 inch CD sleeves). In all but two cases--discussed in detail below--original full-track mono master tapes were the disc sources.

Let's establish from the outset, the remastering, by Sony ace Mark Wilder, is superb sounding, at least to this reviewer's ears. Myers' booklet notes include Wilder's comments on the technical steps he took for each album. It is also worth stating early that completists will be let down; no rejected takes, false starts or other musically inferior distractions here, just the master tapes as produced originally and intended to put Davis's best image forward.

According to Myers' notes and subsequent discussions and e-mails with Wilder, these albums track a technical transition period for Columbia's famed 30th Street studio. The earliest album, "Round About Midnight," was recorded only in mono, using the long-established method of mic'ing each player and mixing to a single-channel end product. The master tape is first-generation, right from the mixing console. There was no overdubbing, but like all of Miles Davis's albums, "Round About Midnight" includes some tape-editing. Wilder said the number of spliced-in edits varies greatly from album to album, with more edits present in the large-ensemble Gil Evans material. By the time of the second album in the set, the large-ensemble "Miles Ahead," recorded over several sessions in May 1957, Columbia engineers were recording to 2-track stereo, and a new 3-track recorder arrived at the studio during the album's production. "Miles Ahead" is technically complicated, and details will follow. By the next time Davis was in the studio, to make the small-group album "Milestones" in early 1958, the 3-track tape recorder was firmly established in the Columbia control room. Subsequent albums started out as 3-track session tapes and were then mixed to a mono master (and a stereo master, starting with "Kind of Blue" in 1959) from the 3-track tape. Of the albums in this set, only "Kind of Blue," "Sketches of Spain" and "Someday My Prince Will Come" were originally released in stereo.

In relatively recent times, all of this material except parts of "Jazz Track," "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Miles & Monk At Newport" have been reissued in lavish stereo box sets. The bulk of the small-group material appeared on "The Complete Columbia Recordings: Miles Davis & John Coltrane" (Legacy 2000). The large-ensemble material appeared in brass-bound "Miles Davis & Gill Evans--The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings" (Legacy 1996). It is worth noting, however, that the 96kHz/24-bit transfers of these mono masters is higher-resolution than previous reissues (except of course the SACD reissue of "Kind of Blue").

Legacy has also reissued these mono albums on 180-gram LPs. Wilder said all of the LPs were cut from 96/24 WAV files he sent to the mastering houses. …

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