Miles was a dramatist. He compels attention to his playing on ‘What’s New’.
Fresh Sound FSR33-101 CD
Miles Davis (trumpet); Rene Utreger (piano); Barney Wilen (tenor); Pierre Michelot (bass); Kenny Clarke (drums)
Recorded at the Olympia, Paris, November 30, 1957
1957 was a very significant year for Miles Davis: he had recorded ‘Miles Ahead’ with Gil Evans in May; in December the ground breaking soundtrack recording for the film ‘Lift To The Scaffold’ was recorded. Just four days before that recording Miles played this concert at the Olympia in Paris. The musicians that he played with were the same that he used for the soundtrack recording.
Contracted to appear at the club Saint-Germain, Miles had left his usual group behind in New York. By 1957 he was famous enough to draw crowds on his own. He had been to Paris before and the group that he assembled included Barney Wilen, at just twenty, new to the scene. Pierre Michelot had played with Bechet and Clifford Brown. Utreger played at the club and had accompanied Lester Young. Kenny Clarke on drums had redefined jazz drumming in the nineteen forties and had made Paris his home. In addition to working at the club, the group played concerts in Brussels, Amsterdam and Stuttgart.
Journalist and trombone player Mike Zwerin went to the concert. He knew Miles having worked with him briefly on the nonet recordings in 1949. He wrote:
‘Miles was the big man….The Olympia Theatre was sold out that night…. Finally the curtain went up……. They started playing Walkin and sounded fine……. Barney took a tenor solo, and as he was finishing, backing away from the microphone, Miles appeared from the wings and arrived at the mike without breaking his stride, just in time to start to playing – strong. It was an entrance worthy of Nijinsky. If his choreography was good, his playing was perfect that night.’
Three years earlier Miles had defeated his heroin addiction and now was in good health. His trumpet playing was hitting a peak. Like a lyric poet Miles’ playing had lucidity, fluency, a cool logic and passion. The cogency and the architectural quality of his solos was impressive. There was a questing, coherent, narrative shape to his playing that would culminate two years later in the Kind of Blue sessions.
Miles was a dramatist. He compels attention to his playing on ‘What’s New’. The majesty and purity of the tone was a summons: an aspect that he would develop in the next few years. Here is an early example. The pretty tune is made beautiful, given depth. He not only varies the main line of the piece but his tone moves from almost a whisper to searing, searching high notes, always playing within himself.
Confident and assertive, Miles approaches ‘Round Midnight’ not afraid to define the blue notes. His hand over phrase to Wilen is appropriate. Wilen has a tone that is close to Hank Mobley: there is warmth and an exploratory feel to his music.
Miles’ solo is magnificent on ‘Bag’s Groove’. Utreger’s playing takes his cue from Miles. When Miles returns, he plays call and response with himself for moments as he explores the tonal quality of the horn before reaching for the high notes. It is only ten years since Miles, ineffectual and lacking in confidence, played with Parker.
‘Walkin’’ he played many times before; the rhythm is easy going. Miles picks the notes carefully exuding relaxation not afraid to go for the higher notes or to repeat ideas. The tone is clear, silvery brass. The contours of the tune fit well. He hands over to Wilen who is backed beautiful by Michelot and Clarke. Miles returns before the end exploring long notes with Clarke punctuating Miles’ musings.
Miles would go a long way in the next thirty years. His influence on jazz would grow but it is doubtful if his trumpet playing would improve greatly over this bravura, luminous playing in Paris.
Some of this material has been available on bootlegs. The recording of the concert is presented in its entirety for the first time. The remastered original tapes have been used to produce this album ensuring excellent sound quality.