What I love about The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige is how the two-disc set serves as a one-stop shopping primer on Davis’ early period. With a dozen tunes on each disc, spanning a brief (but incredibly productive) five-year period, a new fan can develop a solid idea of what the jazz trumpeter was all about at that stage in his career.
That’s not to say this new Concord Music Group release is intended for “new fans” only. With an artist as prolific as Miles Davis, it can be awfully daunting (and cost prohibitive) to snatch up everything he recorded between the 1940s and his final studio album in 1991.
Think of Definitive as a comprehensive sampler of his Prestige Records body of work, recorded between 1951 and 1956. This is classic hard bop, with a host of significant jazz musicians featured throughout. Sonny Rollins figures prominently on tenor saxophone throughout the first disc, while John Coltrane is Davis’ tenor player on the disc two material. Davis’ old boss, Charlie “Bird” Parker even makes a cameo on “Compulsion,” the final time Davis and Parker would record together.
The credits on disc one read like a “who’s who” of jazz greats, including Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and Thelonious Monk. The second disc draws from recordings made by Davis’ first great quintet: Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums, and the aforementioned Coltrane on tenor sax.
Much of disc two finds Davis leading his quintet through readings of tunes from the Great American Songbook. Davis as a composer does not factor heavily in Definitive, though a few early classic originals are present (including “Tune-Up,” “Dig,” “Four,” and “Solar”).
If Miles Davis had stopped exploring new directions in music after 1956, the recordings found on The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige would easily be enough to secure his place among jazz legends. Of course, he went on to change the course of music several times, influencing literally countless musicians. But these early recordings track Davis as he developed his indelible voice and unparalleled skills as a bandleader.