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Mile Davis – My Funny Valentine reissued

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There is an interview with Miles Davis conducted by Nick Kent for The Face (collected in The Dark Stuff) in 1986 where Davis is quoted:

Some people, whatever is happening now, either they can’t handle
it or they don’t want to know. They’ll be messed up on that bogus
nostalgia thing. Nostalgia, shit! That’s a pitiful concept. Because
it’s dead, it’s safe…

At that time Miles was being assaulted by the revivalist jazz of Wynton Marsalis roughly as a challenge to the almost total artistic washout of the material Miles had recorded since his 1980 return from his five year self imposed “retirement”.

In 1986, Miles had just left Columbia for Warner Brothers and he took the opportunity in the same interview to let people know what he felt about giving Columbia the right to any of his unreleased material. “Hell, they put the shit out, it won’t sell. There’s enough old shit of mine being issued as it is. I never seen any of it toppin’ no charts. No one wants to buy it. Why should they?” Miles has now been gone for many years and the CD’s are still coming so somebody must be buying them. It’s understandable why he didn’t want the past to interfere with the present, but the past has a life of its own and while it may just be positive thinking on my part; quality usually wins out, if not in the marketplace, at least in history.

The trend in reissues now is to put the album out as it was originally released albeit digitally or expanded to double length. Gone are the bonus tracks that were sometimes interesting, but usually were good examples of why things got left on the cutting room floor. A good example of this trend is the recent Capitol reissues of The Beatles first albums as they were originally released in the US. I still remember the furor that greeted The Beatles CD’s when they were released in the mono British formats years ago. This constant reissuing does create a problem for the music fan: constantly having to upgrade to the latest reissue. You get the usual litany of complaints about a greedy recording industry or that there was nothing wrong with the previous version of the CD. Those people just need to get over it. I’ve never upgraded my Beach Boys original two-fers that were issued by Capitol and I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything. My Funny Valentine was released over ten years ago by Columbia as a two disc complete concert and now it is being reissued as a single disc just as it was released on LP in 1965. Should you rush out to upgrade or is going from a two disc set to one an upgrade? The CD sounds incredible for starters. As an historical event, maybe the album deserves to be heard just as people heard it in 1965 with 65 minutes of music sans record needle skipping and scratching.

The reissue of My Funny Valentine will be released on February 1, 2005 and it is a must have if you don’t already own it and maybe even if you have the older release. The album was recorded Feb. 12, 1964 at the Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall. The occasion was a benefit concert for voter registration drives in Mississippi and Louisiana. Miles Davis forfeited the group’s usual performance fee, but he didn’t tell the other members until right before the concert. This created some conflict as detailed by Ron Carter in his added liner notes. Whatever the reason, an incredible night of jazz was captured. The album was hailed as a classic upon its original release and time has not diminished its timeless beauty and power. A vindictive Miles Davis of 1986 may have repudiated his past, but mere nostalgia is not why this music is still appreciated, for with true greatness how can something be revived that has never been out of real fashion?

Miles was joined by Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, and George Coleman. Coleman’s tenor sax almost steals the show with what some consider the most impassioned lyrical playing of his career. The “Memphis Monster” Coleman supplies plenty of swing on each of his solo turns. Ron Carter brings his pulsing strong bass tone to the show. Tony Williams enjoys the freedom drummers get in the Bill Evans Style used by the Davis group during this period. His accents on “I Thought About You” right before Coleman’s solo are a great illustration. The piano of Herbie Hancock is just on another planet, with the open spaces where he doesn’t play carrying just as much weight as his impressionistic notes that sometimes sound like raindrops to the point of visually glistening.

The main attraction is the bandleader, Miles, who begins each tune with solos. There are evocative hints of dissonance edging their way into his sound. His trumpet cries briefly like a wounded animal in the beginning of “My Funny Valentine” before finding its way out of a possible avant-garde trap. Miles answers those who might have questioned his power as his limited tonal range bristles with electricity. The opening trumpet blast in “Stella By Starlight” will knock over furniture, but mere power is not what Miles was ever about. It’s moments like his high piercing note near the start of “I Thought About You” that then disintegrates in little melodic ways as the song proceeds. It’s the echo of the blues and bebop in “All Blues”. Cool could also be hot. Try sticking your tongue to a frozen lamp post. C’mon, I double dog dare you.

My Funny Valentine is not likely to go shooting up the charts, but that’s the Top Forty’s loss. Miles Davis and his listeners are blessed that his music still lives. Some might say it is nostalgia and that things are better today. Let them have their say, just as Miles had his in 1986. I don’t listen to Miles Davis out of nostalgia for a world I wasn’t even born into yet, but because his music touches me as all great music does. It doesn’t matter how the music charts, but how it hits my heart.

This review was originally found at Soulfish Stew. Stop by and see me sometime.

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About Wally

  • JR

    George Coleman.

    The complete concert is available on the Seven Steps… box set, isn’t it?

  • http://www.wallybangs.blogspot.com wally bangs

    Crap, did I put the wrong first name in for the Memphis Monster? Where the hell is my brain. And yeah, I do believe the whole show is on the box set.

  • http://www.wallybangs.blogspot.com wally bangs

    Ah, now the Memphis Monster, George Coleman, has the right first name. Thank God for editing. And here I thought the review was one of the best I had written. It serves me right for not being humble.

  • godoggo

    I saw Coleman just a few years ago and he was absolutely devastating. Seriously, I came away raving about the greatest sax player in the world. I think that a lot of his recent recordings don’t adequately document his brilliance, but what I’ve heard (I don’t buy too many albums, I’m afraid) from that album he did with Ahmad Jamal album a few years back does seem to.