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  • Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1963-1964
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Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1963-1964 Box set

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by William Ruhlmann

Throughout a professional career lasting 50 years, Miles Davis played the trumpet in a lyrical, introspective, and melodic style, often employing a stemless Harmon mute to make his sound more personal and intimate. But if his approach to his instrument was constant, his approach to jazz was dazzlingly protean. To examine his career is to examine the history of jazz ... Read more in Amazon's Miles Davis Store

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Product details

  • Audio CD (11 Oct. 2004)
  • Number of Discs: 7
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Sony Jazz
  • ASIN: B0002QXMBG
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 332,345 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Product Description

BBC Review

If heaven is Miles Davis' second quintet (and some would say that it is), then this luscious set is indeed aptly named. It's got seven discs in it, for a start...

The previous sets in Columbia's series have all been centred around particular bands or recording projects. This one is different, documenting the period of transition between Davis' work with the first great quintet (with Coltrane, Adderley et al) and the second (with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams).

Coltrane was (unsurprisingly) a hard act to follow. Jimmy Heath, Sonny Stitt and Hank Mobley all failed to fit the bill for various reasons (Miles was particularly fond of Heath but the saxophonist's parole officer put a ban on him touring with the band), and the period was marked by what Davis felt were some fairly indifferent recordings and performances.

By the first disc of this set, Davis had settled temporarily on the quintet that cut Seven Steps to Heaven in early 1963 (featured on disc 1 here). Though the trumpeter's ear had been caught by the talents of both Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams, neither were available. Bassist Ron Carter was in place however, and the pianist's chair was taken by LA session master Victor Feldman (soon to leave for more lucrative studio work). George Coleman was the tenor saxophonist, and Frank Butler filled in while Davis waited for Williams to finish his stint with Jackie McLean.

Despite their considerable skills, this band was still very much in the shadow of the Coltrane line-up. But with the arrival of Hancock and Williams a month later, things shifted up a gear or three. Live recordings made at Antibes and in particular the Philharmonic Hall gig of February 1964 (all included here) show how.

The set lists drew on a selection of Davis classics plus a few standards. Though there was still a nod to the hard bop flavours of the Mobley and Heath groups (particularly in the furious pace of "So What"), Hancock's crafty reharmonisations of the material, coupled with Williams' crisp, explosive drumming kept the material in a constant state of flux and fizzing with energy.

Coleman's earthy, precise tenor proved to be a problem for Williams, who craved a more adventurous foil for Davis. When Coleman left (citing late payments and a lack of gigs), the drummer lobbied for his old bandmate Sam Rivers to take his place. A live recording from Tokyo seems to be the only document of this short lived line-up. Though it wasn't an entirely successful one (Rivers' embryonic avant garde approach didn't sit well with Davis), the version of "My Funny Valentine' remains for my money one of the trumpeter's loveliest ballad performances, and Rivers is admirably fearless throughout.

Not long afterwards Davis finally bagged Wayne Shorter, who'd just quit Art Blakey. The final disc of this set captures the new quintet on a visit to Europe with a broadly unchanged set list. "Autumn Leaves" is pulled apart and stuck back together with a level of invention and beauty that hints at things to come, and it's fascinating to hear the band tackling tunes they would soon abandon in favour of new self composed material.

There's not a huge amount here that'll be unfamiliar to the Davis collector. We do get a few alternate takes from the studio sessions and a fairly glorious"Stella by Starlight" on the final disc, but Columbia'slisting of concert announcements among the 'previously unreleased' material is a bit questionable.

But of course, it's all remixed and remastered and (call me superficial), the packaging and annotation counts for a lot. And of course, the music's pretty good too...a fine investment and an essential companion to the glorious Plugged Nickel set. --Peter Marsh

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Cornish Deadhead TOP 500 REVIEWER on 24 July 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is probably the least essential of the Miles "studio" boxes, (almost a nonsense statement),but if you invested in the other 7, then you must buy this one. Or,on the other hand, if you like early Miles then this is a good one to buy. It covers an 18 month period from April 63 to Sept 64 and includes 11 previous unissued tracks. 5 discs feature George Coleman on sax with No.6 having Sam Rivers, and No.7 Wayne Shorter. It is a period of many changes with Ron Carter on bass being the only constant. The music sparkles throughout and unlike the other studio boxes features much live material. I would describe this box as the missing link where Miles was striving for something new which leads up to the next amazing 65-68 quintet. If you enjoy Miles, I'm sure you'll love this box.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mr. A. Lanfranchi on 28 Nov. 2009
Format: Audio CD
I do wonder why Cook and Morton, the erudite authors of The Penguin Guide To Jazz tomes, have completely overlooked this quite splendid Box Set. Ian Carr, now very sadly deceased, quite correctly points out in his biography of Miles, that when the Plugged Nickel sets were recorded, Miles Davis had in fact been laid off for 9 months with very debilitating health problems. To my ear, this is clearly very evident...the trumpet playing at times really does sound awful, shrill, flat and out of tune. Hardly surprising after spending most of 1965 recovering from painful hip surgery. Miles is obviously not 'match fit'. Not so on Complete Seven Steps. Miles is in good lip, with tremendous energy, focus, and the whole band truly are a very tight-knit unit exuding loads of sparks throughout all of the performances. I strongly recommend all Miles fanatics to purchase this Box Set head, shoulders and half a waistcoat above Plugged Nickel!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
The "Forgotten" period of Miles Davis 26 Oct. 2004
By R. Lipman - Published on
Format: Audio CD
This box set covers the period between the 2 great quintets of Miles Davis. The time in question is several years after the Coltrane band disbanded, but right before the great Shorter/Hancock years of the 2nd quintet.

Many have considered this time frame to be the equivalent of lost years or as time best to be forgotten. I am not one of those people.

This is a band and a musician in transition. The established repetoire that forms the backbone of this set continiously evolves as Miles responds to the influence of new players. It is interesting to listen to the results of Miles' evolving thought processes. Certainly not all of it works and not all of the sidemen are up to the task, but taken as a whole there is very little not to like.

This box set consists of the studio album "Seven Steps to Heaven" and a series of live concerts. The most well known of the live dates are "My Funny Valentine" and "4 and More" which were recorded on successive dates in early 1964 and released as 2 albums. The occasion was a series of concerts held a Lincoln Center in NYC to benefit the United Negro College Fund. Miles was comitted to this cause and by the time of the concerts, his working band had reached a relative level of comfort and maturity. Miles' comitment to the music and the band's comfort level are audible in that these tracks are standout sessions, that are reasonably well recorded. At times the interplay is sparkling as the players dance and weave sonically around each other.

"Miles in Europe" captures the band in the middle of a European tour. To my ears, this is a good but not earthshattering session. The remainder of the live titles find Miles and company in Berlin and Tokyo. The Berlin tracks are a pleasant surprise as the original release did not have the best of sonics. The Tokyo dates consist of the usual repetoire, this time with Sam Rivers replacing George Coleman.

For the Miles fan or completest, this set is a must buy. To the casual fan, maybe not.

Sonically, this is a good sounding CD box set. Previous errors have been cleaned up (cf Miles in Berlin) and it sounds like the producer went back to the original master tapes to create the digital conversions. You will hear much better bass and treble extension, with nice silent backrounds- all a hallmark of good CD reproduction. What you will not hear is the additional air and ambience that is evident on the original vinyl pressings. The vinyl copies of the "4 and More" and "My Funny Valentine" pocess a holographic quality that at times is downright spooky. With the right equipment, you are back in early 1964. You do not get that feeling with this CD set. If you do not have the vinyl or if you have later "Nice Price" reissues, then this remaster is sonically better. If you have the original vinyl then you know what I mean. However, the disc that comprises "Miles in Berlin" is definately better than the orignal vinyl. Much more clarity, better frequency extension and a more realistic soundstage make for a much more enjoyable performance.

"Seven Steps to Heaven" is comprised of material recorded in Ca and NYC. The CA material has a drier, sharper sound compared to the NYC material. Then again the NYC studio was very familiar to Miles and perhaps he felt more comfortable there ?

If you are looking for a Xmass present to indulge yourself with or if someone in your life wants to get you a nice gift, look no further than this set.

If you would like to further explore the so called "Forgotten Years" I would suggest "Friday and Saturday Night at the Blackhawk" This recording was made several years before the "Seven Steps" box, but again captures the sound of Miles in transition. Taken together you have an excellent period snapshot of Miles circa 1961-64.

79 of 88 people found the following review helpful
Some Great Music & Some More Music 30 Sept. 2004
By Scott McFarland - Published on
Format: Audio CD
When they first announced this box's concept years ago, it sounded like it was a bit less cohesive or purposeful than the others. And in fact it is. That's not to say that if you have the money in your pocket you shouldn't buy this. I would say though that if you don't have the money in your pocket, you're just fine on this one to buy it in pieces later.

Disc 1 and the first part of Disc 2 contain the tracks from the two bands/sessions that constitute the "Seven Steps to Heaven" LP. The Los Angeles band/music is generally moody and very much focused on Miles' trumpet; the New York band is more inventive and active behind Miles. The music as mastered here is crystal clear. The alternate takes which exist are nice to hear but don't really teach us very much. This has been, and remains, a good album that represents a unique year in Miles' career.

Discs 2 and 3 contain the Antibes concert formerly released as "In Europe", now augmented with a "Bye Bye Blackbird" we'd not been able to hear previously. The sound is mono but it's quite presentable. The band swings their hardest on this concert, and it's a nice 90 minutes' worth of music that any Miles Davis fan will enjoy.

Discs 4 and 5 contain the famous NAACP benefit show from 1964 that resulted in 2 LPs worth of material, here for the first time put back into playing sequence and containing (a very nice version of) "Autumn Leaves". No Miles fan will want to be without this show as it is well-recorded, played with intensity, and contains definitive versions of a few tracks. This will inevitably be available as a 2-CD set and will be required listening for jazz heads.

Discs 6 and 7, though, are by no means must-hear. Disc 6 has Sam Rivers playing sax with the band in Tokyo, replacing George Coleman who played well on Discs 1 - 5; it's the same repetoire that we've been listening to, nothing new here. Miles is the centerpiece and he plays much as he did in 1961 (now well-documented) and on though 1964. Disc 7 has Wayne Shorter finally into the band, but it's the same tunes we've been hearing and again not startling in any way.
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Missing Link Collection 2 Oct. 2004
By Steven Kosakowski - Published on
Format: Audio CD
This terrific 7-disc set bridges the gap between the two great Miles Davis Quintet boxed collections already available from Columbia - the earlier featuring John Coltrane ('55-'60), and the later '60's version with Wayne Shorter ('65-'68).

This 'Seven Steps' box collects Columbia recordings from 1963 and 1964, when all the slots in the later Quintet had been settled but that of the sax chair. So here we have Miles and his rhythm section - Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on drums, and Herbie Hancock on piano (except for one studio set with Victor Feldman) - joined by a succession of sax players, ending up with a live disc with Wayne Shorter finally aboard.

Only one studio album represented here - most of the LA and New York sessions of April and May '63 were released as 'Seven Steps to Heaven', with one track showing up on the 'Quiet Nights' LP.

(The remainder of 'Quiet Nights', by the way, is thoroughly covered on the Miles Davis/Gil Evans box set.)

The rest of the box collects the live releases of the period, including notably the Antibes show, and the NYC Philharmonic concert of '64 formerly available in part on 'My Funny Valentine' and 'Four and More'. Here that show appears complete and in sequence across discs 4 and 5.

There are still a few early '60's Miles-on-Columbia odds 'n' ends not yet swept up into one of these Quintet boxes, but all are readily available in recent remastered editions. To get the full sweep you'll still need the 'Someday My Prince Will Come' disc, the 'Complete Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk' box, the 2-disc 'Complete Carnegie Hall Concert' set, and the magisterial 'Plugged Nickel' box.

And if the Columbia sets still aren't enough, there's a nice box from Dragon covering the Stockholm shows of 1960, some with Coltrane, some with Sonny Stitt.

3+ stars for the music here (relative to the phenomenal Miles Davis Quintets before and after, of course); 5 for the remastering, the physical presentation (box set as artifact), and above all for making available this historical chronicle of a period in the always fascinating musical history of Miles on Columbia.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Labor pains have never been so pleasurable. 16 May 2006
By Thomas Plotkin - Published on
Format: Audio CD
This box set begins with a false start (a session in LA with a pick-up group), but then bursts into flower as Miles acquires a rhythm section of mere kids; those kids, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and particluarly seventeen year-old tinderbox Tony Williams, light such a blaze that they will propel the leader from the massive re-working of his live-set documented here (the continuous sets played without breaks between songs, breakneck tempos, or else abrupt shifts in tempo, a return to modal playing not heard from Miles since Kind of Blue), to the edge of Free Jazz (documented in the Plugged Nickel box), to a whole new songbook of originals that sound shockingly Ornette Coleman-ish (the ESP box set) and finally into r&b grooves and electricity. All in just four years. No artist in jazz ever mutated so quickly, and as Miles says of this group, "It wasn't all me, it was them too."

This box covers the first stage of that extraordinary journey. It could well be dubbed the search for the saxophonist, as the band picks up then discards hard-boppish George Coleman, avant gardist Sam Rivers, and finally splits the difference stylistically by settling on Wayne Shorter. Aside from two perfunctory studio dates on the first disc, we then get four concerts from 1963-64(Antibes and the famous CORE concert with Coleman, a Tokyo date with Rivers, and a Berlin date with Shorter); much of the repertory is the same from show to show, but I feel that actually increases rather than diminishes the interest of this box; for in the great jazz tradition, Heraclitus-like,these improvisors never approach the material the same way twice. These recordings are transitional, a warm-up for the material on the ESP and Plugged Nickel box sets; But Miles Davis' transitional periods would be considered masterpieces for most other artists. Plus, none of these concerts have ever been released complete and un-edited before, the CORE concert (originally split artificially into ballads and fast numbers) has been restored to its proper order, and the sound is spectacular. Finally, note-for-note, this might be the most technically perfect trumpet playing of Miles' career. His high-notes, virgin territory for him, are hair-raising, and he would never play at such untrammelled length again. This alone makes this set mandatory.

A postscript, June 5, 2011 -- go over to Amazon UK and look for Miles Davis Unreleased Japanese Concerts -- 2 discs with more dates with Sam Rivers from the same tour represented by the single disc here; interestingly, the band follows Rivers on this bootleg release and go MUCH further out then on the relatively genteel Sony official release on the box under review; Herbie and Miles enter much riskier territory. On a couple of tracks the piano sound is muffled, but by and large the sound is good. The set appeared briefly on Amazon US as a pending release, and then disappeared, somebody's policing the copyright -- but it's currently available on Amazon UK, and I recommend it to fans of this box.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The Story of the Birth of the Second Quintet 2 Feb. 2007
By Paul R. Greene Jr. - Published on
Format: Audio CD
After Miles' first great quintet had disbanded, he was at a point of transition. Though he soldiered on for a couple of years with Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, a group that produced some amazing music (Someday My Prince Will Come, Friday and Saturday Nights At The Blackhawk), he wasn't breaking any new ground artistically. And though that period of his career rates as a favorite with many a Miles fan, Miles himself was not exceedingly happy with the group (Mobley in particular), feeling that he was in an artistic "rut" of sorts. It was around this time that Kelly, Chambers and Cobb left the group to pursue their own interests, effectively leaving Miles without a group, and thus beginning a transition that would culminate with his soon-to-be legendary second quintet.

The story begins in 1963, with Miles putting together a new group and laying down tracks for his next record, Seven Steps To Heaven. The new group began with tenor saxophonist George Coleman and bassist Ron Carter. Drummer Frank Butler was enlisted, though Miles really wanted 17-year-old prodigy Tony Williams, who had commitments at the time with Jackie McLean. Pianist Victor Feldman rounded out the group, and brought along some fresh and lyrical new material ("Joshua" and "Seven Steps To Heaven"). Feldman declined Davis' offer to join the band, so Davis went back to New York and finished the record with Herbie Hancock on piano and Tony Williams on drums, who was now free from his commitment with McLean. It was evident from the first session that the group was going to be special; it was Williams' amazing ability and propulsive force that drove the group and forced everyone else to play beyond their abilities. Miles knew that Williams (and his feel for the "new thing") was needed to guide him towards developing a new sound, so he relied heavily upon his direction and advice during the formation of this group. Disc one (and half of disc two) contains the entire album Seven Steps To Heaven, along with previously unreleased rehearsal and alternate takes.

Starting midway through disc two, this set chronicles Miles' new group as they experiment with the tenor chair, beginning with their appearance at the Antibes Festival in France (released in 1964 as Miles Davis In Europe). Though the set still consists of the same mixture of Miles' "hits" from the Coltrane era and standards (along with the new Feldman tunes), the band managed to stretch and mold the material into an entirely new form, almost unrecognizable from previous arrangements. Williams drives the group, often at breakneck tempos, controlling the tempo with his frenetic ride cymbal work, pushing and pulling the meter and pulling out all the polyrhythmic stops. His mastery of the drums is flat out amazing and unprecedented (and still unmatched), regardless of age. His arrival on the scene totally changed the way jazz drummers would play from that point on, and many an experienced veteran was sent back to the woodshed after hearing him for the first time.

The real highlight of this set is discs four and five, which consist of the entire performance at the Philharmonic Hall in New York on Feb. 12, 1964, which had been released in 1965 and 1966 as My Funny Valentine and Four & More, respectively. The entire concert is presented for the first time in its entirety, and includes a previously unreleased version of "Autumn Leaves." This recording represents this incarnation of the group at its absolute finest, as the play with a passion and intensity that results in an invigorating and uplifting experience. The band's intensity may have been borne of the fact that Miles had just informed them before going onstage that their usual earnings were being donated to charity that evening, which enraged the group to the point of exchanging words with the leader. Miles himself suggests in his autobiography that their anger was responsible for their frenetic performance; he also says that Coleman played that night better than he's ever heard him play.

It was Coleman, however, that was the one piece of the puzzle that still was not quite the right fit. He plays throughout this set with a brilliantly melodic ease, with clean and lyrical lines firmly entrenched in the bebop tradition. Williams was dissatisfied with Coleman's playing, however, which he thought was too traditional for his tastes. Likewise, the group was a bit too adventurous for Coleman's tastes, so he left and was replaced at Williams' urging by Sam Rivers. The sixth disc of this set features Rivers on the album Miles In Tokyo, which had been released in 1969 as and was previously available only in Japan. Rivers is an intriguing option, sort of the anti-Coleman, if you will, with his angular and often guttural sound that skirted the boundaries of tradition and form and eschewed traditional bebop clichés. Regardless of who is manning the tenor chair, the group remains cohesive and inspired, and often explosive.

Ultimately, Rivers proved to be a bit too far out for what Miles was looking for, which was exploratory, yet still respective of the boundaries of time, melody and structure. Upon returning from Tokyo, Miles received word that Wayne Shorter was now free from his commitment with Art Blakey, so he immediately offered him the job. Shorter proved to be just what Miles was looking for, the perfect compromise between Coleman's melodic traditionalism and Rivers' exploratory modernism. In addition to being a fine soloist, Shorter was a great writer, whose compositions brought to the quintet the infusion of new material it had so sorely needed. The final disc consists of a recording of the band's appearance in Berlin, which was released in 1969 as Miles In Berlin, and was previously only available in Germany. This disc captures Shorter still settling in a bit, though it is immediately evident that his distinct voice is a perfect fit for the group, thus concluding an 18-month audition for a saxophonist.
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