Miles Davis and John Coltrane ‘The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6’ 4CD (Sony Legacy) 5/5

Among the numerous dissected explorations of the glittering career of Miles Davis, the final European tour in 1960 of the group that recorded on ‘Kind of Blue’ has thus far received relatively little journalistic coverage, doubtless because writers on the other side of the Atlantic knew precious little about the tour itself and the various dates, and even author Ian Carr was largely restricted to what he knew of concerts within the British Isles. Until now that is. Sony has seen fit to provide, if not the complete picture (tour dates in the UK are not included, but are available separately, notably the Manchester concert from 1960), then at the very least a significantly wider canvass for jazz enthusiasts and one moreover that is official rather than a mere bootleg copy, with consequent due attention to detail befitting a leader of Miles Davis’ magnitude and with re-mastering that immeasurably improves the sound quality.

In his own autobiography, Miles makes fleeting reference to the European tour dates with the main focus on his first ever visit to London and his love of staying in Paris. It is all the more fitting, then, that the first two CD should commence with both concerts that took place at the prestigious Olympia Theatre in Paris, both on March 21 1960. Extended interpretations of, ‘So what’ sit side by side with more familiar pieces from the Great American songbook such as a near sixteen minute rendition of ‘Walkin’, that dovetails nicely from the final Prestige recordings that Miles was contractually forced to make, and then a new recording contract with major Columbia. A major difference now was the speed at which, ‘So what’, was performed, departing from the studio original and merely the launching pad for something entirely new and fresh. This is how one should view the music showcased here, with emphasis firmly placed on experimentation and the free-flowing minds of Coltrane and Davis playing off one another and generating yet further new and creative ideas.

The second concert features a lovely reading of, ‘Round midnight’, with the gentle side to both Coltrane and Davis in full display, while Miles’ profound respect for the compositional talent of Sonny Rollins is reflected in the choice of ‘Oleo’, while muted Harmon trumpet operates on a lengthy, ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’. According to author John Szwed, it was Coltrane who was the unknown quantity/factor for the Parisian audience, but in the writer’s words, (…) He [Coltrane] played as if they had been listening to him for years and held nothing back unafraid to work the same startling phrase or figure over and over, and eager to splinter and shred notes, oblivious to the slowly growing hiss rising from the agitated continental crowd’.

Of interest equally was the individuals making up the audiences and their connection to the musicians. It was no coincidence for example that the tour manager for the London part of the European tour, Harold Davidson, was also the agent of Paul Robeson who happened to come back stage to meet Miles at a London concert. After Paris, the tour moved on to Scandinavia and the second part of the second CD and CD’s three and four are devoted to concert dates in Copenhagen and Stockholm, the latter of which witnessed two performances on 22 March. Copenhagen was already becoming a regular stop off haunt for American jazz musicians, with an annual Copenhagen jazz festival just around the corner (with famously recorded concerts by both Roland Kirk and Sarah Vaughan chronicled). In addition to, ‘So What’, a second piece from ‘Kind of Blue’ was performed, the modal, ‘All blues’, a vehicle for Coltrane to demonstrate his astounding virtuosity and for the rhythm section its tight grip over proceedings, enabling Miles and Coltrane to improvise at will. Stockholm was notable for at least two reasons. Firstly, the inclusion of a relatively new piece devoted to his about to become wife (In December of that year), Frances Davis, in, ‘Fran Dance’, presumably in homage to her professional balletic prowess. Secondly, the concert was advertised as a sextet, with Miles trying out a vibraphone player, Buddy Montgomery (he would later use Victor Feldman on ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ in this capacity), but as it turned out Montgomery did not appear on stage. Rounding off matters, is a six minutes interview with John Coltrane by Swedish journalist Carl-Erik Lindgren that is one of the few occasions on which we have the privilege of hearing the saxophonist expound on his musical ideas. Full marks for the lavish packaging. Tastefully designed as a de-luxe fold-out gatefold sleeve in black, red and white print. Extended sleeve notes come courtesy of renowned Miles Davis scholar Ashley Kahn.

It would be little exaggeration to state that this pairing of jazz colossus musicians raised the very standard of jazz music to hitherto unprecedented levels and certainly changed the shape of jazz forever. For John Coltrane, there was deep frustration at not being able to express everything that he wanted to ideas-wise, and this ultimately led to the split from the Miles Davis formation and the creation of what would be known as the classic John Coltrane quartet. For Miles’ part, the departure of Coltrane would create a gaping chasm in his group and one that no single saxophonist could replace. Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound’ technique facilitated the freedom which Miles Davis had thrived upon and now he had to start afresh, rebuilding the band and forced to plug the gap on his own, Little wonder, that Miles went through a difficult period in his career, until by 1964, a new and highly dynamic formation was in place. That, however, is another story and the previous volumes of the Miles Davis legacy series fill in some of those musical gaps. A re-issuing of the ‘Live at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago’ sessions would make for an ideal volume 7, especially at a price that a wider public could afford.

Tim Stenhouse