CD Reviews: Columbia Jazz Titles from 1959

Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain (Legacy Edition)
The David Brubeck Quartet: Take Five (Legacy Edition)
Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um (Legacy Edition)
By David Chiu

1959 was definitely a landmark year for jazz, one that brought out important titles that have since been part of the genre’s canon: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come to name just a few. In addition to Kind of Blue, Columbia Records have also issued Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, and Charles Mingus Ah Um—three different jazz albums stylistically but nevertheless important and in some cases groundbreaking. Each marking a 50th anniversary this year, these albums were recently reissued with a second disc of bonus material.

Big band orchestras have certainly existed in history, but the idea of fusing jazz and a classical orchestra, especially when both produce music that is indicative of a foreign musical style, seems unconventional. But that’s what happened with Miles Davis on Sketches of Spain, which marks one of the trumpeter’s legendary collaborations with arranger Gil Evans. Davis and the orchestra’s music pays homage to the traditional music of Spain from the epic “Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)” to the heroic and memorable “Saeta.” Even in this setting Davis’ horn playing evokes both fire and beauty. There is no question that this record played an important part in future fusion projects involving jazz and classical such as in the recent works of Wayne Shorter, for example.

With the exception of Davis’s Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five may be one of the most recognizable and popular jazz albums . It’s easy to understand why on this record because each composition is so engaging and accessible. Yet this album, fronted by Brubeck’s piano playing and Paul Desmond’s sax, is also pioneering for its unusual adaptation of different time signatures—evident on the album’s two most popular songs, “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and the title track. This lavish package also contains live performances by the legendary quartet and a DVD featuring a recent interview with Brubeck on the making of the record

For jazz purists, Charles Mingus’ Ah Um satisfies both mind and soul. Compared to the aforementioned reissues, this sounds like a more traditional jazz release with a little bit of R&B, especially on the blazing “Better Git It In Your Soul.” Several of the tracks such as “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” “Jelly Roll,” and “Pedal Point Blues” really swing, while other tunes convey an understated beauty such as “Self-Portrait In Three Colors” and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” a tribute to the great Lester Young. In addition to the original album, the Legacy Edition also contains the original album’s follow-up, Mingus Dynasty.


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