Saturday, April 23, 2011

CD Review: Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Albert King Get "Definitive" Releases

The Concord Music Group recently released their latest additions to its “Definitive” series. This round of releases includes jazz greats Miles Davis and Bill Evans along with blues legend Albert King. Each set consists of over 20 songs spread along two discs and a full-color, 20-page booklet with newly written liner notes and song information.

First up is “The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige”, it displays some of Davis’ finest work as a band leader between the years of 1951 to 1956. The first song on the collection, “Morpheus” is an introduction to the trumpet of Miles Davis. It also features some quick solos by Sonny Rollins on tenor sax and John Lewis on piano. The songs just take off from there. The first disc shows some of Davis’ lesser known compositions as he was just at the beginning of his career. Some highlights include “Four” featuring Horace Silver on piano and Art Blakey on drums as the song carries a very light, up-tempo groove as the whole band gets locked in together. Davis opens up on his more traditional sound on “I’ll Remember April” with some nice brush-work by Kenny Clarke. The songs that really capture Davis as a band leader in the early 1950’s are the extended jams of “Walkin’” and “Bag’s Groove (Take 1)”.

Disc two features some of Davis’ more well-known songs as he expanded his band to a quintet which included at times the great John Coltrane. The songs on this CD were all recorded during one of Davis’ most influential time periods of his career. Highlights include covers of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight”. The soft touches of “It Never Entered My Mind” and “My Funny Valentine” are welcome breaks from Davis’ trumpet of fire. The set closes with “The Theme (Take 1)” which was recorded just before Miles Davis signed with Columbia Records.

Next up is “The Definite Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy”, which comprises over twenty years of some his best recordings. The set begins with the Bill Evans trio on the solo-filled “Speak Low”. Bill Evans always let the spotlight shine on the members of his band that deserved it; he never kept it strictly to himself. Disc one covers his first six years on the Riverside label. Highlights included the gentle piano of “Peace Piece” and the live renditions of “My Foolish Heart”, “Waltz for Debby”, and “Gloria’s Step”.

The second disc gives us a couple of Bill Evans’ solo pieces, “Spartacus Love Theme/Nardis” and “The Touch of Your Lips”. He also gives us a couple of wonderful live covers, “Isn’t Romantic” and “On Green Dolphin Street”. The mid-1970s found Bill Evans on a new record label and also a new found inspiration in his music. His trio now consisted of Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums which gave new life to Evans’ piano playing. The only track on the set that includes vocals is “Young and Foolish” which features the smooth voice of Tony Bennett amongst the backdrop of Evans’ piano. This set is a nice glimpse into the talents of Bill Evans.

Finally one of the most influential bluesmen to ever play guitar, “The Definitive Albert King on Stax” is a must-have for any blues collection. The first disc covers King’s recordings from 1961 to 1970. These songs feature some of the most well-known sidemen in blues music including Ike Turner, Donald “Duck” Dunn”, Booker “T” Jones and bunch more. The set really starts to heat up with one of his classics, “Born Under A Bad Sign” and just keeps going from there, with an electrifying live version of his original “Blues Power”. ”The Sky Is Crying” sounds like the perfect blueprint that would later be covered by his apprentice Stevie Ray Vaughn. Pop Staples lends his vocals to the John Lee Hooker penned “Tupelo (Part 1)” which gives the song a sound of despair while King’s guitar dances in the background. Albert King shows his appreciation on covers of Elvis Presley’s version of “Hound Dog” and the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman”.

Disc two of this set is really where Albert King gets engulfed in the blues beginning with “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven”. The song “Tell Me What True Love Is” has the blues guitarist teaming up with blues pianist John Mayall. A live version of “Match Box Blues” shows us the power in King’s performance in front of an audience. King gets his funk-blues on in the songs “I Wanna Get Funky” and “Playing On Me” which feature the Memphis Horns. Also included is his Christmas single “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin” which just shows how well-rounded Albert King was at playin’ the blues.

The sound on this latest batch of releases is great, with some minor variations depending on the year recorded. It’s great to have all of these early recordings together in one package, instead of just another rehashed “greatest hits” set. These sets give you get a glimpse at these artists at their most influential time. A must have for any collection.

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