Shuffle Play

By Kremsky, Stuart | IAJRC Journal, December 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Shuffle Play


Kremsky, Stuart, IAJRC Journal


Prom the Vaults

Over the span of a century of jazz records, fans have been treated to myriad alternate takes. This constant digging into the vaults, at least for better-selling artists, has served to give listeners a portrait of the typical jazz recording session. A supervisor says "take one," the band starts to play and, if they make it to the end, they might play another take, or many more, until everyone is satisfied. We know from released material that when Miles Davis started out with Charlie Parker and then on his own in the late forties and early fifties, that's pretty much how they worked. But by 1966 and 1967, the time span covered by Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5, that's not how the Miles Davis Quintet operated anymore. Most of the music on the first two discs of this three-disc set consists of the raw session reels for the Miles Smiles LP that were recorded half a century ago. And while the label could be accused of scraping the bottom of the barrel (and I wonder what Miles himself would have thought), to strange people like me and so many other fans who've loved the finished product for so long, there's an undeniable thrill in hearing how these pieces developed. Basically, the quintet started in the studio with a lead sheet, the barest form of notation, and from that they built a performance. The session for Eddie Harris' Freedom Jazz Dance ostensibly goes all the way to take 11, with over 23 minutes on tape. But the truth is that the final take is also the only one that's complete. On the session tape, the band starts the head, stops, discusses things, starts again, and so on. No solos. Then, somehow and a bit mysteriously considering what you've just heard, they play the master that appears on the record. That's it, and they're on to the next song, Circle. One caveat, and it's a point that the producers address in a note. Obviously the microphones in the studio are designed to be picking up the instruments and not the conversations. Headphone listening, and pretty loud listening at that, is by far the best way to approach this set. Thankfully, Miles himself is easiest to hear, probably because his trumpet microphone is at mouth level. He's got plenty to say at times, too, as he molds and edits the performances with the band to arrive at a final master. The instant understandings that are evident in the chatter among the musicians and the cheerful camaraderie and casual profanity that's on display illuminate the personal side of this influential band. Every second of the Miles Smiles sessions fills all of the first disc and most of the second. The set is filled out with session reels for Nefertiti, Fall, and Water Babies, an alternate take of Masqualero, and the rhythm section in the studio in 1968 rehearsing Country Son. The session tape for Nefertiti is particularly worthy of extra attention, as the quintet coalesces around the idea that the piece shouldn't have any solos at all. When Miles suggests that approach after the first run-through, everyone in the studio laughs, then quickly realizes that it might be the best way. It is the best way, of course, and the way it comes together makes this listener appreciate Davis even more for his role as editor and instant arranger. Once again, the master take is the only complete version, much beloved since its release in 1967. Filling out the third disc are Blues In F (My Ding), a real curio with seven and a half minutes of Miles and Wayne Shorter at the Davis apartment as the host talks and works on a blues on the piano, and finally, a snippet of Davis speaking over the talk-back microphone to Tony Williams in the studio. It's a classic behind-the-scenes moment in a collection that's full of them. This might be the first on a long shelf of Miles Davis boxed sets that's strictly designed for truly hard-core fans. I'm sure that they'll love it.

Columbia/Legacy 889853573721; Miles Davis (tp) Wayne Shorter (ts) Herbie Hancock (p) Ron Carter (b) Tony Williams (d); all tracks recorded in NYC except for Play Your Eight (Miles Speaks), recorded in Hollywood, CA; Disc 1 (65:10; October 24, 1966): Freedom Jazz Dance (session reel)/Freedom Jazz Dance (master take)*/Circle (session reel)/Circle (take 5; closing theme used on master)/Circle (take 6; released master excluding closing theme)/Dolores (session reel)/Dolores (master take)*. …

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