Miles Ahead was initially billed by Columbia Records, in the flatly obvious tone of the day, as Miles Davis plus 19, with Gil Evans.
Right. Still, it was that last guy, the 20th man, who was the important one.
After a burst of creativity in the late 1940s — the clearest result being the very cool but obviously embryonic Birth of the Cool on Capitol — Gil Evans didn't work with Miles again until the late 1950s.
Davis seemed better for it, as this record touched off an incredible rejuvenation for someone who had already done seminal work with the jazz legend Charlie Parker.
In fact, Miles Ahead — an underappreciated gem which I guess should really be labeled as part of the Forgotten Series — marks the beginning of a striking period of collaborative vitality for both Miles and Gil Evans: Next from these two came Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain, both also on Columbia.
In fact, arguably the best recordings by Evans and Davis as band leaders without each other are also from around then: Miles' 1959 Kind of Blue and Gil's 1960 Impulse LP Out of the Cool.
This digital version of Miles Ahead (from 1997) features a remaster job by George Avakian, the original producer. He took the session's (superior, in terms of sound) mono tapes and cleaned up a few glitches from that first analog-to-digital transfer. Namely (and this is not a bad thing), he eliminated some hiss and extraneous noises — and linked both sides at their mid-album intersection, which you couldn't do with vinyl.
Even so, there was something about the roundness, and the upfront bass, that mono brought so brilliantly to these sessions. Call me old: I miss how they used to sound on my turntable.
Even so, that's simply a quibble. We move on ... These sets — featuring talented sidemen like Lee Konitz, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor — are infectious, loose and sheer genius.
Evans said they were done in three, three-hour sessions — with no rehearsals. His chromatic, counter-rhythmic charts are bluesy, new and sure. Throw in Miles' long, cool notes — and there are still few recordings of any kind that approach Miles Ahead.
Quite simply one of Miles' most important re-releases. And there have been some doozies. This, however, remains a must-have.
Even if it doesn't get the publicity of those other must-haves.