What I’m Listening to Wednesday – Miles Davis ‘Complete Mono Recordings’

Miles Original Mono Recordings

It is interesting how I find myself immersed in a recording – not that I do, because I am very much an ‘album immersion’ listener, but rather HOW I got there. Sometimes it is a new release – which was the case for the last few weeks – but other times the path is less clear … like this week!

This week’s JAM is Miles Davis ‘Complete Mono Recordings’

OK, so last week I was playing stuff on the iPod in my car, changing up from my recent albums and looking for something new. I started listening to Nicholas Payton’s ‘Sketches of Spain’ live recording from 2013, which is a solid and enjoyable album. But … as seems to hapepn every time I put it on, by the second or third song I feel a compelling pull back to the original 1960 Miles Davis Recording.

So I did.

But not quite the ‘original’. OK, let’s step back for a second:

Here is the press info:

Nine of Miles Davis’ earliest albums on Columbia Records, encompassing music that he recorded for the label in monaural sound from 1956 to 1961 (and released from 1957 to 1964), will be issued together on CD for the first time as Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings. This historic box set, comprising nine CDs in mini-LP replica jackets, will be available everywhere November 11, 2013 through Columbia/Legacy, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. On November 29th in celebration of Record Store Day, Columbia/Legacy will follow up with vinyl mono editions of Kind Of Blue, Miles & Monk At Newport, and Jazz Track — capping a series of recently released mono LPs including ‘Round About Midnight, Miles Ahead, Milestones, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain, and Someday My Prince Will Come

And that is what I did – I have the entire set on the iPod in my car, and started off with Sketches of Spain. What else is there in the collection?

– ’Round About Midnight by The Miles Davis Quintet (originally issued March 4, 1957)
– Miles Ahead by Miles Davis + 19 (originally issued October 14, 1957)
– Milestones by Miles Davis (originally issued December 1, 1958)
– Jazz Track by Miles Davis (originally issued October 19, 1959)
– Porgy And Bess by Miles Davis (originally issued March 9, 1959)
– Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis (originally issued August 17, 1959)
– Sketches Of Spain by Miles Davis (originally issued July 18, 1960)
– Someday My Prince Will Come by Miles Davis (originally issued December 11, 1961)
– Miles And Monk At Newport (originally issued May 11, 1964)

And I thought of it like this – despite having the original LP, CD, digital version, and 50th anniversary CD… I am listening to a ‘NEW’ version of ‘Sketches of Spain’.

The album features a nuanced performance by Miles with the masterful orchestra led by Gil Evans through Rodrigo’s composition. It is a very different recording, with little room for improvisation, but tons of personality and just a great breadth of playing.

The mono recordings bring two things:
– They restore how the recordings were originally mixed – it wasn’t until the late 60’s that stereo was widespread. So this is how Miles and Gil Evans would have heard and approved the recordings.
– The sound is different. Due to the sound placement possiblities of stereo, you can position the parts of a band or orchestra in different areas in the spread and each gets different emphasis. In a mono mix it all shared the same sonic space – so to hear the soloist they are higher in the mix – and really stand out.

Would I describe these recordings as ‘essential’? Not if you already own them – this is audiophile/colector’s territory. But the albums themselves are all masterpieces – everyone should own ‘Kind of Blue’, and jazz fans should also have at least ‘Sketches of Spain’ and ‘Miles Ahead’ as well.

The albums are available on iTunesand Amazon MP3 both for $49.99, and also streaming on Spotify.

Here is a video of ‘Sketches of Spain’:

And here is a live TV recording of Miles and Gil Evans playing two songs from ‘Miles Ahead’:

So … what is YOUR jam this Wednesday?

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