Miles Davis' recordings of 1951-1954 tend to be overlooked because of his erratic lifestyle of the period and because they predated his first classic quintet. Although he rarely recorded during this era, what he did document was often quite classic. The two sessions included on this CD (which includes three alternate takes) are among the earliest hard bop recordings and would indirectly influence the modern mainstream music of the 1960s. The first session features Davis in a sextet with trombonist J.J. Johnson, altoist Jackie McLean, pianist Gil Coggins, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clarke; highlights include "Dear Old Stockholm," "Woody 'n You," and interpretations of "Yesterdays" and "How Deep Is the Ocean." The remaining six numbers showcase Davis in a quartet with pianist Horace Silver, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Art Blakey, really stretching out on such numbers as "Take Off" and "Well, You Needn't." However, on "It Never Entered My Mind," Davis' muted statement (his only one on this set) looks toward his treatments of ballads later in the decade.
Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio on March 6, 1954, this was the emerging trumpeter's third session recorded for Blue Note. Originally released on a 10" pressing (BLP-5040). The set features the leader Miles with some of his finest playing. His support includes Horace Silver on piano, Percy Heath on bass and Art Blakey behind the drums. The original six selections include "Take Off, Lazy Susan," "The Leap, Well You Needn't," "Weirdo and It Never Entered My Mind".
May 1967 was the beginning of an amazing burst of studio creativity for Miles Davis; the first recordings in that burst are on this album. Sorcerer is even darker and moodier than its predecessor, Miles Smiles. (And even for a Miles Davis album, this is very moody and very dark.) It features less memorable tunes but the improvisations go even further away from the jazz mainstream.
A dynamic front line of Davis, trombonist J.J. Johnson and the bassist's brother Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone, gives each tune big band weight and texture. J.J. Johnson's lilting "Kelo" and tragic "Enigma" proceed from the orchestral tradition of BIRTH OF THE COOL, and his taut velvety tenor trombone counterpoint contrasts nicely with Davis' burnished midrange and brassy cry. Tenor man Jimmy Heath seems to take the Basie and Gillespie big bands as the jumping off point for his jazz classic "C.T.A.," and ends his own solo with an affectionate nod to Lester Young.
Miles' ballad turn on "I Waited For You" is one of his most alluring performances, while his effortless swing on "C.T.A." and "Ray's Idea" sums up his innovations in blues phrasing. But his solo and arrangement on "Tempus Fugit" are simply transcendent. This Bud Powell anthem for modernists generates a challenging set of symphonic variations, driven along by the emotional intensity of Art Blakey. The joy with which Miles and Blakey morph between swing and Afro-Cuban rhythms, blues and bop phrasing, is what jazz is all about.