Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4
by David Chiu
Two legendary institutions are highlighted in this latest installment of The Bootleg Series: Miles Davis and the Newport Jazz Festival—in fact, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the trumpeter’s first appearance at the festival. Like any other Miles Davis compilation, this 4-disc set with nearly four hours of mostly unreleased music is a microcosm of the artist’s unconventional and groundbreaking career, spanning jazz’s evolution: from modal jazz to post-bop to jazz rock and fusion. The first disc alone is historic in that Davis’s 1955 Newport debut, which features the trumpeter accompanied by musicians such as Gerry Mulligan and Thelonious Monk (that set includes a beloved Davis staple “’Round Midnight). The 1958 performance features the legendary sextet with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers – the lineup that would later appear on the classic Kind of Blue. Eight and nine years later, Davis returned to Newport with perhaps his greatest Quintet personnel: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, performing some of the numbers that would be associated with that lineup: “Gingerbread Boy,” “Seven Steps to Heaven,” “Footprints” along with earlier compositions as “So What,” “All Blues” and “Stella By Starlight.” Perhaps the most exhilarating of the Newport performances (not only just in Rhode Island, but also in New York, Berlin and Switzerland) came later in the late 60s through the mid 70s when Davis and another shifting-lineup went electric, highlighted by the towering and influential Bitches Brew album—whose several cuts like “Miles Run the Voodoo Down,” “Sanctuary” and the title song are featured on the last two discs. The sound of that period is marked by not only Davis’s darting trumpet but also some jagged-sounding guitar, electric piano, and funky, swinging drumming; one could only imagine what the audiences at Newport must have thought of hearing music– at time explosive, other times moody and atmospheric– that was more suitable at the Fillmore West than at a jazz festival. This exhilarating music from this boxed set clearly shows the symbiotic relationship between Davis and Newport. Davis’ music certainly evolved during 20 years, but the only constant was sense of majesty and awe emanating from his and his band’s performances.