Since their inception in 1982 Mosaic Records have become a byword for quality audiophile jazz releases. No detail is left forgotten or ignored in the pursuit of the Mosaic magic. There is meticulous research and thorough investigation of the Capitol and Blue Note vaults before they even decide which artist is the next to be featured. Once the decision is made, the sessions are mastered from Analogue or Digital masters and re-released onto a standard or superior Q LPs (or onto CD). Often they contain rare or unissued material. Always they are of a high sonic quality. They are packaged in a lavish box set with booklets which are as attractive as informative. But there was always one slight problem: getting them in Britain wasn’t easy. Basically, it came down to either ordering them through mail order and forking out P&P and customs or taking a trip to the States.
The 1957 LP, “Miles Ahead’, was Miles Davis’ first full collaboration with Gil Evans and hete, in stereo on an LP for the first time, takes up Record One.
Record Two there are the alternative take a from the suite. When it was first released this album sent shock waves through the jazz world: here was an orchestra mixing classical textures with jazz improvisation; gone was the jazz big band sound of swing; it ran continuously with bridged passages edited between pieces, and it was built around the style one soloist – Miles Davis, using a flugel horn throughout. Forty years on and it isn’t quite so shocking but it is still as powerful. Remixed from the original session tapes the beauty has in fact been enhanced. Quite simply, “Miles Ahead” is a masterpiece.
What years these were for Miles. Only just over 12 months after “Miles Ahead” he teamed up. with Evans again and recorded Gershwin”s “Porgy and Bess”. To produce one groundbreaking suite is impressive, to produce another only a year later is incredible. You can hear its glory on Record Three and Four. Unlike the original release they are in operatic order which gives the music a more logical progression. Alternative takes follow.
Listening to it again makes you thank Miles love life. It was seeing Francis Taylor – soon to be the first Mrs Davis dancing in “Porky and Bess” that gave Miles the idea to cover it. Evans greed and so, hey presto, the definitive recording of the opera was produced. Miles’ playing is outstanding throughout, his lyricism is so pure at times that you feel you can touch it. “Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Summertime” are essentials to own from the Milea Davies canon.
After hearing “Concierto De Aranjuez” by the Spanish composer Rodrigo, Miles decided to record an interpretation of it, alongside other Spanish music. The result was “Sketches of Spain”, which is on Record Five with alternative takes on the first side of Record Six. Evans continued the idea of using Miles’ trumpet – and the softer sounding flugel horn – as it was a human voice. One example is ” Saeta”, a religious song from Andalusia, which is traditionally sung by a woman who tells of her passion for Christ. In taking her place Miles has to be both joyous and sad. A feat he manages superbly. This is all the more remarkable becuse, despite – for that time – a lengthy recording time (5 months, November 1959 – March 1960), Teo Marceo’s production is rather flat.
It’s is here where the extra money splashed out for the Q LPs, as opposed to the standard, really pays off. The heavier weight (180 grams) of the vinyl and deeper grooves give the recording a fuller sound. The orchestra, for one thing, sounds less muzzy than on my original copy. It is an improvement which is to be welcomed, because though popular, “Sketches of Spain” is rather critically under-valued. But the pundits are right. Putting it crudely, most musicians would be proud to have this as their champion work; let alone have it mid-table.
Side Two of Record Six is the “Quiet Nights” sessions which are the weakest of the set. Miles never liked them and was furious at Teo Macero for releasing them and it the words of the great Jazz man himself: “the less said about it the better”. The same is true of much of Record Seven, which in its favour does include ” The Time of the Barracudas” (written for the Lawrence Harvey play if the same name) but alas does also include numbers featuring the vocalist Bob Dorough. Miles and Evans were trying to ride the early sixties bossa nova craze but less ride it than fall at the corner. Dorough’s weedy flat voice has to be heard to be believed. Better still, skip it and put the kettle on.
The remaining four LPs include rehearsals, overdubs, remakes and studio discussions from the sessions. Listening to them you can follow the development of some great works of art: so you can heat the moment Miles decided to play “I Loves You, Porgy” in a mute rather than an open horn; you can hear how much Evans should take praise for these albums with his struggle to coax the musicians to tackle the complex pieces. (Miles considered them some of the hardest he had ever done). On “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed” Evans frets whether it is just too hard for the orchestra to play. This is history; this is magnificent music. Finding this interesting does border on the anorak but as a defence, it should be stated that much of these stand up in their own right, as separate pieces to be released versions. There is, for example, a version of “Concierto De Aranjuez” which Miles listening rather than playing, thus dramatically changing the number.
It is with “Concierto” that the box set closes. Music rarely gets as good as this. For your money, you get three classic albums, plus several more sessions of first rate music and dozens of rarities.