MARCH 1958 (54 YEARS AGO)
Miles Davis: Relaxin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet is released
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 5/5
Relaxin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet is an album recorded in 1956 by Miles Davis and released in March, 1958. Two sessions on 11 May 1956 and 26 October in the same year resulted in four albums—this one, Steamin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet, Workin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet and Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. These four albums are considered to be one of the best performances for the whole hard bop subgenre.
Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet is in every way a masterpiece. When the trumpeter (1926-1991) had formed the band in 1955, his colleagues—tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones—were not considered jazz-world A-listers. And before conquering his narcotics addiction earlier in the Fifties, Davis had seen his once-promising career go into eclipse. By 1956, however, his sound, especially when muted, was an achingly personal counterpart to the vocals of Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. Relaxin’ (plus its Prestige companions, Miles, Cookin’, Workin’, and Steamin’) reestablished Davis, and elevated his quintet as the gold standard of small groups.
With its accent on bright tempos, from medium-bounce to crisply up, Relaxin’ remains one of Davis’s sunniest outings, a prime example of one of the outstanding ensembles of the 20th century reaching the summit of their artistry.
Miles Davis – trumpet
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Red Garland – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Philly Joe Jones – drums
Those of you who own the album Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet know, from reading the back liner that they recorded nineteen other extended tracks at the sessions which produced the five numbers heard on Cookin’.
On that same liner, I stated that the Miles Davis Quintet was, to me and many others, the group in modern jazz but that they had broken up in the spring of 1957.
Since the disbanding Miles has fronted three different groups. In the summer of 1957, retaining Red Garland and Paul Chambers, he completed the personnel with Sonny Rollins and Arthur Taylor. It was not that each musician was not wonderful but Rollins was not contributing to the group feeling; he was longing for one of his own where he could express himself the way he wanted to.
In the fall Miles re-organized once more. Bobby Jaspar, on tenor and flute, replaced Rollins, Tommy Flanagan was at the piano bench instead of Garland and Philly Joe returned in place of Taylor. Again there were better than good performances but not the Miles Davis Quintet. Jaspar, a more than capable tenorman, did not fit with the spirit of the group. The flute furthered this difference.
When Miles returned from a concert tour in which Julian Adderley’s alto supplanted Jaspar’s tenor, he reformed the original quintet for a January 1958 engagement, as Garland and John Coltrane re-entered the fold, but swelled the group to sextet size by retaining Adderley. Cannonball is a case of another fine musician, separate from either Rollins or Jaspar, who does not fit with the Miles Davis group. Then again, it has not been a long association for him and Coltrane certainly didn’t belong with Miles when he first joined the group. This, however, was due to undeveloped skills rather than lack of coinciding musical temperament. Rollins could have fit easily if he so chose; Jaspar, however modern, is in another idiom and Adderley is of yet another persuasion.
How long the sextet, or quintet, if it should revert to that number, will stay intact is purely speculative at this writing. On this depends whether the group will recapture and maintain the consistent brilliance they were radiating during 1956. Coltrane, further enriched by the experience of playing with Thelonious Monk during the summer of 1957, has increased both his immediate importance and his potential; the rhythm section has not lost any of its skill, imagination or fire; Miles, is as before, a probing, sensitive, lyrical musician who does stagnate from month to month.
Miles is a jazzman of many sides. Others imitate him as they do Bird, another fellow who had a couple or three facets to his playing, and in both cases they usually get only one aspect. Miles may be a “man walking on eggshells” but he is also a diamond cutting into opaque glass. He combines, in his astute grasp, all the important elements that make for personal, memorable jazz as expertly as the group’s individuals have molded their separate talents into one pulsing whole.
This set is called Relaxin’ because of the ballad performances in several different tempos, usual-ballad, medium and up, which flow along in an unimpeded manner. There are also the incisive swingers; Sonny Rollins’ Oleo (done previously by Miles and Sonny in Prestige 7109, Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants) and Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody’n You.
Although this session was recorded in a studio, the tunes were done in the immediate succession of a nightclub-type set and there were no second takes. There is a false start on You’re My Everything and you will hear Miles’ instructions to Red Garland before the complete performance of the tune. In other instances on this record, Miles addresses the group, exchanges communications with engineer Rudy Van Gelder, jokes with Bob Weinstock, etc. These comments make this recording a bit more personal and you are thereish.
Before a note is played Miles says to Bob Weinstock, “I’ll play it and tell you what it is later.” Of course, you know that it is If I Were A Bell. Red Garland, who introduced it into the group, has done it a trio version (Prestige 7086). Miles is muted here, as he is throughout the album, excepting Woody’n You, and extremely eloquent. Coltrane is singing, and, like a bell, swinging. Garland’s extended solo is another gem.
You’re My Everything is done in ballad tempo by Miles and Trane with rich block-chords by Red setting the mood. The nuances by the rhythm section lend a welcome vitality.
For joyous, straight-ahead swinging and melodic improvisation, I Could Write A Book speaks several volumes. As in If I Were A Bell, Miles opens and closes; Trane and Red appear in between.
The three take turns in stating the theme of Oleo, an original that has become almost de rigeur for all Davis in-person appearances. Miles, in his two choruses, is backed by Chambers except on the bridges when the entire rhythm section swings into action. This is observed in Coltrane’s first chorus but beginning with the second, the full trio works behind him until near the end of his final one. With Garland’s solo the laying-out pattern is invoked again by Jones. Chambers is a rock on this, Philly’s brushes are lightning and Coltrane is at his driving best. Miles’ sure-footed tightrope walking leads back to the platform of the theme.
It Could Happen To You returns us to the lilting, swinging groove with Miles stating and embellishing the melody — Trane and Red in extremely exemplary solos on the rise and fall of the rhythm section’s tide.
Woody’n You, one of the most misspelled titles in jazz (it was written by Dizzy for Woody Herman who used to play it behind tap dancers but never recorded it), is one of the great modern jazz standards. The performance here is a high-water mark which combines intense drive with the great harmonic interest that the chord changes generate. Miles is searing and searching-finding. Coltrane, spurred on by the utilitarian absence and presence of Garland plus the general dynamics of the rhythm section, reaches the heights too. There is a story-telling, half-chorus drum solo by Philly Joe, after Miles’ second entrance, that precedes the final chorus. Miles’ arrangement leading back into the original melody in the lest eight bars is simple and beautiful.
At the end we hear Miles say, “Okay?” and Bob Weinstock, in jest, tells him to, “do that one over.” Miles asks, “Why?” but Coltrane, unconcerned, looks for the beer opener.
Recently, a critic (I won’t call his name because he made himself foolish enough in the Sunday New York Times, a far more public place than this liner) in discussing Miles Davis, stated, “the limp whispering and fumbling uncertainty that have marked much of his work with small groups have smacked more of inarticulateness than of art.”
This is the some guy who said of Charlie Parker, in discussing him on a liner for a West Coast altoist’s LP, “a tone that was, at best, erratic.”
It is bad enough to fail in foreseeing great talent but to be wrong in retrospect is tiresome and unforgivable.
~ notes by IRA GITLER
~ supervision by Bob Weinstock
~ recording by Van Gelder
The first four tracks are from the October session, the other two from May.
“If I Were a Bell” (Frank Loesser) – 8:15
“You’re My Everything” (Harry Warren) – 5:18
“I Could Write a Book” (Richard Rodgers) – 5:09
“Oleo” (Sonny Rollins) – 6:18
“It Could Happen to You” (Jimmy van Heusen) – 6:37
“Woody ‘n’ You” (Dizzy Gillespie) – 5:02