Thursday, March 4, 2010

Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins: The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-56

Prestige Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.4.10
Buy CD: The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-56

True jazz fans need no introduction to either Miles Davis (trumpet) or Sonny Rollins (tenor sax); they began earning icon status more than 50 years ago. This double-CD includes sessions they recorded together from 1951 to '56, when both were immersed in jazz's bebop phase.

The 25 tracks cover 22 tunes; alternate takes of “Blue Room,” “The Serpent's Tooth” and “But Not For Me” are included. All were released originally on 78RPM vinyl, thus the track lengths of 3 to 7 minutes.

The groups to which Davis and Rollins belonged ranged from quintets to septets, and most of their supporting personnel also became famous: Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, John Lewis and Percy Heath (key elements of the Modern Jazz Quartet), Horace Silver, Benny Green, Tommy Flanagan and a handful of great drummers (Roy Haynes, Philly Joe Jones and Kenny Clarke).

If you enjoy the jazz style that predominated during the 1950s, and you're big fans of Davis and Rollins, you'll love this album. The re-mastered audio is excellent; although the results don't achieve the quality of today's CDs, they provide a clear indication of the future that lay ahead for both musicians.

The sessions were unique. Davis plays piano on one track, for example, because the intended pianist left the studio early; Charlie Parker plays tenor instead of alto sax, because he was under contract to another studio.

The alternate takes didn't always utilize the same musicians, and many tracks were “head” arrangements that used the basic chord structures of well-known standards, with different melodic lines. Some of these weren't “titled” per se, and were “named” by the studio producer after the artists had departed.

These sessions are among the last recorded before Davis and Rollins segued from bebop to “cool” jazz. They were superb in both genres.

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