Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival
(Monterey Jazz Festival / Concord)
#9 Boxed Set/Live Album/Music DVD for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2007, Volume 14, #10
Written by John Metzger
Fri October 19, 2007, 06:40 AM CDT
In 1963, Miles Davis’ band was in a state of flux. The outfit with which he had started recording Seven Steps to Heaven in April wasn’t the same ensemble that completed the effort the following month. The departures of pianist Victor Feldman and drummer Frank Butler opened the door for Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams to join the fray, and the reinvigorated line-up instigated a seismic shift in Davis’ approach that was immediately palpable, if not fully realized, within his work. Following his blistering set at the Antibes Jazz Festival in July — which, incidentally, is featured in its entirety on the Seven Steps to Heaven boxed set that was issued in 2004 — the collective returned stateside, where Davis began focusing upon how best to acquaint an American audience with his new ensemble. The Monterey Jazz Festival provided him with the perfect vehicle. Forty-four years later, the Miles Davis Quintet’s performance has made its long overdue commercial debut as part of a series of albums commemorating the summit’s 50th year of operation.
For certain, multi-artist events, such as the Monterey Jazz Festival, have their limitations, but Davis succeeded in making the most of his brief, 50-minute time slot. Although he had new material at his disposal, he opted to introduce his recently reconfigured band by using standards and original songs, all of which had been floating through his repertoire for years, as a means of providing a familiar frame of reference to his audience. Composed of four tunes — Autumn Leaves, So What, Stella by Starlight, and Walkin’ — as well as his signature sign-off The Theme, Davis’ set appeared to be designed to invite comparisons to his appearance at San Francisco’s Blackhawk, just two years earlier. For as many times as Davis had tackled these compositions, his ever-changing line-up kept them sounding fresh.
Nevertheless, the most notable aspect about the incarnation of the Miles Davis Quintet that took the stage in Monterey was its newly established method of attack. Fueled by Williams’ furiously aggressive drumming — a precursor, of sorts, to the rock world’s riotous, rhythmic pounding plied by Keith Moon and John Bonham — the group’s set was infused with a level of energy that was, at times, quite manic. Davis had been tackling So What at a brisk pace for several years, but on Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival, his trumpet can be heard gliding with renewed potency over the frenetically galloping cadence laid down by Williams and bass player Ron Carter, the sum total of which effectively cleared the way for George Coleman’s searing Coltrane-esque solo. On a positively exhilarating rendition of Autumn Leaves, the sharp bursts that sprang from Davis’ trumpet spurred Hancock to unleash a wickedly inventive mixture of left-hand chords and right-hand notes that danced with and became entangled in Williams’ propulsive beats and fine-edged accents. Not to be outdone, Ron Carter took the lead by bowing his bass to form a stirring collage of sound. Even within the quiet elegance of Stella by Starlight, Williams created tension beneath the surface of Hancock’s crystalline piano, which suitably framed Davis’ sad posturing. Although the ensemble would only improve over the course of the next few years as it mutated into his second great quintet, Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival demonstrates not only how well-connected Davis, Williams, Carter, and Hancock already were, but also how unjustly underrated Coleman remains. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box