Miles Davis Quintet ‘Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5’ 3CD box set (Sony Music) 4/5

This latest edition in the series of Miles Davis recordings made for Columbia/Sony focuses on the period 1966-1968 and covers the very latter period of the classic quintet of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Long-time fans will be curious about the insights that the alternative and often extended versions of the original albums provide as well as the studio banter that shunts back and forth between leader Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero. Those new to the original albums may find the constant switching from one take to another somewhat disorienting and detracting from the original listening experience. However, more seasoned observers of the Miles mid-late 1960s sound will find this to be a revelatory experience and one that brings them closer to the rationale and intentions of the musicians themselves. The first two CDs cover the albums, ‘Miles Smiles’ and ‘Nefertiti’, with bonus material from the latter. Excluded is any material from either, ‘Miles in the Sky’ or ‘Sorcerer’.
By far, the most interesting of the material and the most listenable is actually contained on the third CD where music from the ‘Water babies’ album is heard in significantly longer versions. For example, ‘Fall’ runs on for over eighteen minutes which is some three times longer than the original album take and it is a lovely ballad with Miles and Shorter working wonders in tandem on what proves to be a most haunting theme. As for Shorter, the tenorist plays at his most lyrical here. One of the joys of listening to the music in this setting is that it enables one to be in on the interactive dialogue and the creative process more generally. Thus on ‘Water babies’, the session reel take features a percussive background of Williams on the cymbals and just bassist and saxophone, but piano left out and then one hears Miles instructing the drummer who thereafter creates a Spanish-tinged flavour on percussion. Take one features the plaintive saxophone of Shorter which is most enjoyable, the tenorist and trumpeter in tandem once more, and Hancock in comping mode.

Some will question whether the chatter is absolutely necessary and here it is undiluted in a warts and all presentation. At the very least it does bring the studio sessions to life, but one can legitimately ask whether it actually enhances the individual’s understanding of the original finished product. As with the complete, ‘In a Silent Way’ box set, the extended versions do shed new light on the music as a whole, yet one can fully understand why Teo Macero felt the necessity to reduce the music down to a more manageable and, arguably, more coherent single disc. In the end the listener can compare and contrast with the original albums and that can make for a worthwhile endeavour.

Inner sleeve notes from Ashley Kahn with black and white photos of the individual members of the quintet. A pity there is no collective photo of this band in performance. An online transcription of the dialogue is available. What would really enhance the current series of complete recordings would be a re-issue of the ‘Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel’ in Chicago from 1965. Originally re-issued at an exorbitant price on vinyl and CD in the mid-1990s, a trimmed down CD package would make a welcome re-edition and enable a new generation to re-examine some of the most exciting live jazz performances ever recorded for posterity.

Tim Stenhouse