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Issue: September 2009

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today: Jazz From '59

Kind of Blue (Sony/BMG)
Miles Davis

Mingus Ah Um (Sony/BMG)

Charles Mingus

Time Out (Sony/BMG)

Dave Brubeck

The Sony/BMG Legacy Series has issued deluxe editions of jazz masterpieces which were all recorded in 1959, as well as two important world music releases by Tito Puente and Babatunde Olatunji from the same era (not reviewed here). Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, like perhaps only Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Count Basie, transcended boundaries and in so doing their records found their way into the collection of many people who would not think of themselves as jazz aficionados. Charles Mingus perhaps was more of an acquired taste for non-jazzers, but was profoundly influential in the jazz world.

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue has been reissued many times in the CD era. Its brooding, impressionistic modal music created a new template for jazz improvisation. This new 2-CD set includes the original recording, a bonus track first released about a decade ago, numerous outtakes, false starts and, on the second disc, five recordings with the same lineup from the previous year.

They are augmented by a 17-minute "So What" from a live set in Holland in 1960, which was previously released only on the gray market; its presentation here begs the question of why the entire concert was not part of this release. Kind of Blue is a cornerstone of any jazz collection; this deluxe reissue is a good place to start if you don't already have it, but is not worth repurchasing if you own any of the prior CD versions (except for the shoddily produced one with a different cover).

Miles Davis collaborated with arranger Gil Evans for the gorgeous Sketches of Spain, with the highlight being the extended version of Joaquín Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." A college roommate from 1970 had a father who claimed that, like Catchers in the Rye, each generation would rediscover Sketches of Spain. Whether you have loved this recording since the vinyl era, or this is your time to discover it, this edition is a keeper.

In addition to the original studio recordings, it contains alternate and partial takes, and, most significantly, the only available concert recording of "Concierto," from Carnegie Hall in 1961. The lush orchestrations and the colorful percussion provide a springboard for some of the most intimate and beautiful playing Miles Davis ever committed to record.

Charles Mingus was at the peak of his powers in 1959, as evidenced by the original companion recordings Mingus Ah Um and Dynasty, collected here under the former title. Caveat: if you own The Complete 1959 Columbia Sessions (now out of print), this set is three songs shorter. However, the only missing pieces are alternate takes, and the new edition does include several alternate takes and bonus tracks.

Mingus as bassist and - especially as composer - was nonpareil in his ability to combine structure with freedom. Among the standout examples are such soon-to-be classic numbers as the surging, Gospel-inflected "Better Git It [Hit] In Your Soul," and the exquisite threnody to Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." If you are a newcomer to the music of this American giant, this 2&1/2 hour set is as good an introduction as you will find. If you are already a fan and don't have this set or its predecessor, "now's the time."

Dave Brubeck broke all sorts of boundaries with his classic Time Out; not the least of those boundaries was the widespread commercial acceptance of the then unusual music in "odd" meters, including the big hit "Take Five" (in 5/4, composed by his saxophonist, Paul Desmond). This new edition contains the original album on disc one, with such other perennial favorites as "Blue Rondo à la Turk."

The use of time signatures other than 4/4 or the occasional waltz was controversial, yet Brubeck's career soared after this. Disc 2 contains excerpts from the Dave Brubeck Quartet's performances at the Newport Jazz Festival from 1961-64. The last disc is a half-hour documentary on the making of the album, including some archival footage and lots of fairly recent interview segments with Brubeck himself.

Find out more at legacyrecordings.com.

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