Freedom Jazz Dance – The Bootleg Series Volume 5 (Columbia)
In the world of classical music, I don’t think there is anything greater than Beethoven’s late string quartets (hardly a rare opinion).
In jazz, for me, it’s similar with Miles Davis’s quintet of the 1960s: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. They were the ultimate “inside/outside” band, straddling the world of free jazz without leaving harmony and rhythm behind, and setting a standard that has never been surpassed. With improvising both sophisticated yet emotionally direct, their music never sounds anything but fresh and surprising. Their sound had a relaxed, deceptive looseness coupled with precision and an almost clairvoyant communication between members. Both spontaneous and disciplined, listening to it is always an exhilarating, profound revelation.
Back to Beethoven, imagine being able to get inside of his head while he was composing those other-worldly quartets, to see how he thought, how he felt, how he created such music. We never will.
But thanks to Freedom Jazz Dance, the 5th volume in Columbia/Legacy’s series of archival Miles Davis sets, we can with this great quintet.
The previous volumes – each essential purchases as well for Davis nuts -- have documented live performances.
But this one is different, and stands apart. On three discs, we get to hear, unedited, the session reels of the band working on much of the music that ended up on the classic recordings from that era – Miles Smiles, Nefertiti and Water Babies – in the sessions that produced them, 1966-1968. We hear Miles chalenging and coaching and instructing this band in his own unique way, getting both what he wants while unleashing their own creative impulses. Humor, frustration, curiosity, give-and-take, respect, leadership, all at the service or creation, and mixed with a massive helping of “cool.” It’s all here.
It’s also amazing to hear this group of future true jazz legends in their transitional period from being young lions rushing toward becoming major leaders themselves, taking instruction but not subservient – apprenticeship at the highest level.
What is unusual about this band and what they created is part of what makes this set so unique. When the CD era dawned, we got a deluge of alternate takes on reissues of classic albums from all the eras of jazz. Most of the value from these were fresh solos, improvising that added to the body of work by great players.
In this case, most of the new material is the creation and refining of the compositions themselves, often with solos only coming on the master takes that we hear in context – at the end of the sessions, the players saving themselves and their ideas for the moments that mattered, keeping their ideas fresh and spontaneous. But where this might not be so interesting with other types of “rehearsals,” the nature of these compositions makes their development an integral part of the pieces we have come to know as the masterpieces they are, and illuminate how the solos grew from the compositions themselves.
It is absolutely riveting and essential listening for anyone who loves and knows this music and this band. It is almost as amazing as the albums themselves.
And we get to hear some serious cursing from Miles. Who could ask for more?