|Review by undertone July 21, 2012 (8 of 8 found this review helpful)
|Milestones, recorded in two sessions in February and March of 1958, represents a transition in the course of Miles Davis’ restless musical path. The previous year, Miles had fired his sidemen John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones out of frustration with their heroin and alcohol-induced unreliability. Operating outside the restrictions of the quintet framework, Miles collaborated with Gil Evans to create “Miles Ahead”, a themed orchestral recording that enjoyed critical and popular success.
Later in the year, Miles witnessed the transformation of the now drug-free John Coltrane during Coltrane’s tenure with Thelonious Monk. All that Miles had heard in Coltrane’s sound was now finally being realized. Miles tendered an offer to rejoin the band, and ‘Trane warily accepted – not yet in a financial position to manage a full-time group of his own.
The reconvened quintet of 1955-1957 were joined by Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, a music teacher from Florida who, on arriving in New York in 1955, had rapidly distinguished himself as one of the most important new voices on the alto sax. With the expanded lineup, the sextet recorded two Davis originals, the modal composition “Milestones” and “Sid’s Ahead” (which was previously recorded for Prestige under the title “Weirdo”), a well-known Monk tune (“Straight, No Chaser”), a composition by Jackie McLean (“Dr. Jackle”, titled “Dr. Jekyll” on the original LP and this SACD reissue), “Two Bass Hit” by Dizzy Gillespie and John Lewis, and a traditional folk song, “Billy Boy”, played by the piano trio of Garland, Chambers and Jones. More material and additional takes from the February and March sessions are documented on the box set Miles Davis and John Coltrane, The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961.
“Milestones” has been issued twice on SACD by Sony Japan, in hybrid and single-layer editions. The Mobile Fidelity edition was mastered by Rob LoVerde from the original mono master tape played back on a Tim de Paravicini-modified Studer deck with EAR tube electronics in MoFi’s Sebastopol, California facility. I have not heard the Japanese SACDs and cannot present a comparison.
The MoFi SACD offers a dramatically different listening experience to Bob Belden and Mark Wilder’s recreated stereo mix on the RBCD box set. The Belden-Wilder mix (presumably created from high-resolution transfers of the original multi-track session tapes), presents a wide sound canvas and extended high end. By contrast, the MoFi mono SACD draws the listener more deeply into the studio space. Drums and cymbals sound true to their analogue source. Improved low-end extension is clearly audible in Paul Chamber’s bass solo on “Sid’s Ahead”. Low-level details in the piano emerge from the background. Trumpet and saxophones are forward but not blaring. Cannonball Adderley’s ebullient solo in “Milestones” and John Coltrane’s careful articulation in “Sid’s Ahead”, models of improvisational construction and saxophone technique, benefit from the focused mono mix.
If the Belden-Wilder set (which I wholeheartedly recommend) represents a best effort at extracting from aging tapes the highest quality signal possible using modern technological tools, then the MoFi effort could be regarded as a respectful and authentic representation of the artists’ original vision. A liner note from the MoFi production team reads: “Any sonic artifacts present are a product of the original master tape. Attempts to eliminate them would have negatively impacted the integrity of the presentation.”
Acrimony during the recording sessions led to Miles’ decision once again to fire members of the group. Philly Joe was replaced by Jimmy Cobb and Red Garland by the innovative young pianist Bill Evans. One year later, this sextet recorded “Kind of Blue”, a further milestone on the artistic journey of Miles Davis.
Was this review helpful to you?