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Hear Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the Road, Among Other Wonders in Take Five

Jean-Pierre Leloir
Miles Davis and John Coltrane at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, France on March 21, 1960

John Coltrane’s momentous affiliation with Miles Davis was drawing to a close in March of 1960, when he agreed (with some reluctance) to embark on a three-week European tour.

The music made on that tour has circulated in various forms over the years, some of them informal and illicit. A few years ago the British label Acrobat released a boxed set called All of You: The Last Tour 1960. Columbia/Legacy is about to issue a collection of similar heft, titled The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6.

This new 4-CD set, available on Friday, chronicles five concerts in three cities: Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm. (In each case the audio comes from European radio broadcasts, and has been authorized by the Davis and Coltrane estates.)

Credit Franz Hubmann / Imagno/Getty Images
Imagno/Getty Images
Photographers in the pit document the Miles Davis Quintet in Vienna, Austria, on April 6, 1960.

The set presents a fascinating study, a split portrait of divergence and communion. Coltrane was digging in and stretching out, straining against all formal restrictions. This was no crowd-pleasing recipe — in Paris, the audience clearly voices its frustration — but his solos have a formal integrity that registers plain today. Listen to a version of “So What” from the second concert in Stockholm, and you hear the tensions of the tour in microcosm.

Davis counts off a tempo but soon revises it, evidently urging the rhythm section to pick up the pace; his solo is textbook, a thing of coiled beauty. Coltrane begins, at 4:40, with a calmly motivic approach that gradually expands and explodes. At 5:15 he quotes “Willow Weep for Me,” and then subjects its title phrase to a methodical transposition, just as he would do a few years later to the phrase “A Love Supreme.” The he really opens up the spigot, in an onrushing torrent. The final few minutes of his solo are a perfect premonition of the miracles he would soon routinely be performing with “Impressions,” a theme based in part on “So What.” When he finally wraps it up, at 10:30, a few approving hollers punctuate the applause.

Mayu Saeki, “Dilemma”

A flutist originally from Tokyo, and now prolific in the New York scene, Mayu Saeki makes her auspicious debut as a leader with Hope, on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records. The album is a complete artistic statement as well as a calling card, with Saeki marshaling a group with Joe Sanders on bass and John Davis on drums.

Credit Gulnara Khamatova
Mayu Saeki

On several tracks — including this original, a kind of soul-jazz samba titled “Dilemma” — they’re joined by Aaron Goldberg, whose comping at the piano is as impeccable as his solo. But the standout voice on this track belongs to Saeki, whose intonation, harmonic choices and rhythmic phrasing are all on point. (She’ll celebrate this album’s release at Jazz at Kitano on Wednesday night, leading a quartet with Davis, pianist Tadataka Unno and bassist Corcoran Holt.)

Frank Carlberg and Noah Preminger, “Embraceable You”

"Embraceable You," performed by Frank Carlberg and Noah Preminger

Whispers and Cries is an apt title for the lyrical new duet album from pianist Frank Carlberg and saxophonist Noah Preminger. Beautifully recorded in Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory, where Carlberg is on the faculty and Preminger is a teacher’s assistant, it’s a document of melodic clarity and harmonious convergence — not unlike what Stan Getz and Kenny Barron were after with their classic album People Time. Listen to this gorgeous disquisition on “Embraceable You,” which seems to bloom in stages. Carlberg plays the stoic, and Preminger opts for sentimental — but both musicians are engaged in a process of slow-motion rapture with the song.

Grace Kelly, “Billie Jean”

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The alto saxophonist and vocalist Grace Kelly has never had a problem connecting with audiences. She recently took that mandate a step further: yesterday she broadcast an in-studio performance on Facebook Live. The session, featuring pianist Julian Pollack, bassist Julia Adamy and drummer Ross Pederson, was conceived and carried out in the spirit of a party — with Kelly serving not only as the featured entertainment but also as a master of ceremonies. The video above, which has its standalone premiere here, is her version of the Michael Jackson anthem “Billie Jean,” complete with energetic footwork (yes, she can moonwalk). But don’t dismiss the clip on account of Kelly’s showmanship — at least not before you hear her solo, which quickly ratchets into overdrive.

Sun Ra, “I’ll Wait For You”

Finally, a choice archival find from Strut Records, which has done valiant work with the recorded output of Sun Ra. Of Abstract Dreams was taken from a radio session in the mid-1970s, probably at WXPN, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Previously unissued, it features a nine-piece band whose ranks include John Gilmore on tenor saxophone, Danny Ray Thompson on baritone saxophone and Marshall Allen on alto saxophone and flute; Sun Ra compensates for the absence of a bassist by mobilizing a sort of barrelhouse left hand. This track is the first studio recording of “I’ll Wait For You,” a song that would later appear on the album Strange Celestial Road (and elsewhere). Gilmore takes an assured solo against a spare polyrhythmic thrum. Trumpeter Akh Tal Ebah and percussionist James Jacson voice the song’s intergalactic pledge.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.