At Newport 1955-1975
All but a handful of Miles Davis boxed sets focus on a specific time period, concentrating on a particular album (e.g. The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions), series of gigs (e.g. The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965) or specific collaboration/group (e.g. John Coltrane, Gil Evans, second great quintet).
Columbia’s fourth entry in its “Bootleg Series,” another 4-disc collection, has perhaps the flimsiest concept to tie its music together, culling performances from the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island and other locations (Germany, Switzerland, NYC) under the “Newport” banner spanning 20 years.
This writer calls it a flimsy concept, because Davis changed his style so frequently and so violently that At Newport 1955-1975 lacks cohesion. But look at it from a different perspective, and it’s a blessing—one couldn’t find a better set to showcase Davis’ radically diverse approaches.
First, the caveats; sticklers will moan about the somewhat misleading “bootleg” designation and the previously released material, including the entirety of At Newport 1958 and three tracks released just four years ago on Bitches Brew Live. Still, the amount of unreleased material merits its purchase, particularly for fans of the “Electric Miles” fusion phase starting in 1969.
The first set from 1955 is an ad hoc jam session with Percy Heath and Connie Kay of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims and Thelonious Monk, notably tackling Monk’s “’Round Midnight” with restraint; the third Monk tune on the first disc is “Straight, No Chaser” performed with breathtaking ease by Davis’ 1958 immortal sextet that would later record Kind of Blue.
The second disc captures Davis’ second great quintet in 1966 and 1967, blasting through speedy, reinvented renditions of “All Blues” and “So What” pushed by Tony Williams’ kinetic drumming.
For this writer, the collection’s highlight is the blistering 1973 set featuring the core “Dark Magus” group with brain-melting guitarists Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas, starting with “Turnaroundphrase,” which fans will recognize as the theme that begins “Moja” on Dark Magus and “Zimbabwe” on Pangaea. This is intense, Cthulhu-sized, zombie-raising music that hasn’t lost any power over 40-plus years.
Finally, the fourth disc includes an entire 1971 set, and although this era is already well documented (with Keith Jarrett and Gary Bartz), the difference here is that drummer Ndugu Leon Chancler replaces Jack DeJohnette, applying his own dynamics and shading to the proceedings.
When it comes to the pre-’80s career of Miles Davis, the word “essential” has almost no meaning, since the vast majority of his recorded material is of such a high quality; as with other entries in the “Bootleg Series,” proceed with confidence.
The Cambridge, England six-piece group Model Village, in their words, has a “quest to unite all forms of pop music” and does so with a multitude of subtle influences and a few stylistic nods, without getting mired in nostalgia.
The new EP, Burger Party, available as a cassette or digital download from POST/POP Records, follows the charming and satisfying 2014 album You Chose These Woes with a few salient changes; there are fewer folky touches (“folky” being this writer’s shorthand for “using small strummed acoustic instruments”) and after the departure of singer Rachel Dunfield, new vocalist Lily Somerville joins the fold, supplying her clear voice free from affectations.
As if offering a sort of challenge for the listeners, the group states its musical tips-of-the-hat on Burger Party—Tracy Chapman, The Band, The Make-Up and The Housemartins—to let them figure out what came from where, if they are to be believed.
Burger Party opens with the utterly irresistible “Back Together,” making a beeline to the listener’s pleasure center and gradually adding instruments and flourishes methodically, maintaining a pop structure while fleshing out its vision. The bass line and tambourine offer ’60s Motown-esque soul-pop cues, but there’s a gritty electric guitar strum informed by garage rock.
The unabashed “ba”s and “da”s with boy/girl vocals and a perfectly timed keyboard, entering during the second verse, seal the deal. If you can imagine enjoying Acid House Kings crossed with Belle and Sebastian’s “Dirty Dream Number Two,” then this will hit the spot.
“Red Chair” is more reserved, offering a gentle stroll and smooth harmonizing; its slowburn with a hint of roots rock just stops short of letting go and rocking out, and for those keeping track, this is the group’s wink to The Band. Or maybe it’s also heard on the final track, “Don’t,” with an easygoing ramble with dusty boots and a warm spirit.
This writer favors the pure pop moment of “Back Together” over its companions, making Burger Party a short but sweet teaser for another full-length.