Concord Music Group's recent double-disc release The Classic Prestige Sessions, 1951-1956 easily qualifies as required listening for any jazz fan. This set spotlights Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins performing classic hard bop in their early prime. The twenty-five tracks amount to well over two hours of music, and every note is worth hearing. The material is all previously released, culled from a variety of different albums.
These legends of the genre are absolutely on fire throughout, with a bevy of great players backing them up. The credits read like a "who's who" of jazz. Charlie Parker weighs in for a relatively rare tenor sax workout on four tunes (including a classic rendition of "Round Midnight"). Horace Silver lends his piano skills to five cuts. Of course, Davis and Rollins were working with the best of the best at the time, cliched as that might sound. The ensemble playing on any given track is exemplary.
Most of the original material on this collection is the handiwork of Miles Davis. Early classics such as "Dig," "Bluing," and "Vierd Blues" are all present. At this early stage in Rollins' career, Davis simply had more compositional experience. But there are some Rollins' gems included as well. Two of his early signature tunes, the madly up-tempo "Airegin" and "Oleo," appear back to back on disc two. Reworkings of standards such as "Blue Room" and "My Old Flame" are no less interesting. With intricate, impassioned soloing from both Davis and Rollins, each song features some of the best trumpet and tenor sax ever committed to tape. That is with the exception of "I Know" on disc one, where Davis jettisons his trumpet in favor of a rare excursion into piano comping.
Concord Music Group has done a perfect job with this release. Jazz historian Ira Gitler has provided an extensive essay that adds great insight into these recordings. His writing provides excellent historical context. It is well worth reading to help deepen one's appreciation of the music. The remastered audio, courtesy of Joe Tarantino, seems almost too good to be true. More than fifty years after the original sessions, it's probably safe to say they have never sounded better. The Classic Prestige Sessions, 1951-1956 is a terrific way to hear the collaborative efforts of two jazz titans in one convenient package.