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A look back at two albums by two great quintets.

Music Review: Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet & Outward Bound

Prestige has been re-releasing a series of albums under the label “Rudy Van Gelder Remasters,” named after the legendary jazz engineer. Two of the entries are solid platters that come from two of the best leaders of any time, backed by their talented, handpicked professionals. Both quintets have a solid rhythm section that stand on their own and can carry a number as good as any trio put together.

Workin’… is the third in a series of quintet albums, recorded to recapture the vibe this group projected while playing at the Café Bohemia in 1956-57, the same period as these sessions. The mood is mellow while losing none of its jump or flow. Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the same recording is awesome enough, throw in Red Garland’s piano prowess, Paul Chambers’ bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums, and you’ve got more than just something to work with. For a better backstory on those two jazz legends, see my pal and fellow Snob, Fumo Verde’s review on Davis’ Walkin’ and Coltrane’s Soultrane. He does a fine job in summing up their beginnings.

This set opens with the beautiful “It Never Entered My Mind”. Red’s piano starts us off, followed by Miles’ plaintive trumpet. With the low bass plucks sprinkled in, it makes me thirst for gin, and I can’t help thinking of the fact that liquor sometimes eases pain and sorrow.

Then Philly Joe kicks me awake with his machine gun intro to “Four,” while Miles and Trane fly right in, reminding me that jazz, like life, can jump and spring up like fire. This tune, as well “Trane’s Blues” and “Ahmad’s Blues,” represents this unit’s creative drive and ability to move, keep you boppin’. The highlight to “Ahmad’s” is the bowed bass solo by Chambers — no boundaries, baby. “Trane’s Blues” is where we get to see Coltrane work some of his magic on one of his own compositions, a mellow swinger that sees him soar yet stay smooth.

“Half Nelson” sends this disc someplace else; taking you on a wild ride that seems out of control, yet you know these men are in full possession of the wheel, totally in control. It shows on their solos as they soar and narrowly avoid crashing into walls, leaving the room filled with smoke from the inferno they’ve begun in your ears.

In an all-too-short career, before his early death due to complications from diabetes, Los Angeles-born Eric Dolphy had learned from and played with many jazz greats, including Charles Mingus, Buddy Collette, and Red Callender. Moving East in 1958 with the Chico Hamilton Quintet got this multi-talented instrumentalist going and it is during this time he began to step forward and truly shine on his own. Outward Bound is Dolphy’s debut as leader. A masterful album that jumps from the get-go, Dolphy’s group pours their heart out and sends you towards the jazz heavens.

“G.W.” starts off with drummer Roy Haynes and his Tommy gun attack. From there Dolphy, on alto sax, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard begin the upward- and outward-bound ascent, while the remainder of the group bop in to let us know they're here too. Jaki Byard on the 88 keys and George Tucker on bass, each have a turn to take the reins and drive the sound further out, as they will do again with force on the rollicking “Les,” which spins out of this world and leaves a blazing trail toward its end.

“On Green Dolphin Street” and “Miss Toni” are showcases for Dolphy’s bass clarinet, an instrument that adds an air of playful fun to the mix of solid jazz the boys drive home around him. “Glad To Be Unhappy” is the only ballad on this album and a tune that brings Dolphy’s flute to the fore. Listen closely and you can hear him breathe, which, for me, only adds to the mystique. Halfway through the song, he takes it a few notches higher and sends the flute, and us, soaring into the open expanse of the jazz universe.

The flute makes a return for the bonus track “April Fool,” a peppy number that fits with the playful side of this CD and takes absolutely nothing away from the drive of the album as a whole. The two other bonus tracks are extended versions of the jammin’ “G.W.” and the bluesy “245,” Dolphy’s street number in Brooklyn. On “G.W.,” the solos are longer, giving the musicians a bit more time to wax creative.

So there you have it, bop kats. Here, springing from 1956 to 1960, are gathered masters thrown together to help spread the word that jazz is boundless, especially in hands such as these. Many would follow the trail they blazed.

Written by Fantasma el Rey

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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