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Miles hints at Blue Note
on 31 January 2015
I've recently been plugging the gaps in my Miles Davis collection and wanted to add this record to my collection. This was recorded at the same transitional point in the early sixties that produced the hugely under-rated "Seven steps to heaven." It is often intriguing to find that some Miles records are familiar through one track - in this instance the justly celebrated re-appearance of John Coltrane on the album title. Whilst "STTH" seemed to contain a wealth of stellar performances which I had hitherto not heard before, "SMPWC" is a surprising uninspired set. Traditionally the fault of the record is deemed to be the unassuming Hank Mobley's filling of the tenor sax vacancy, a fact reiterated in Davis' own biography. However, this doesn't really get to the nub of why this record does quite match others from the same era like "Milestones." Clearly, Mobley's solos are faultless yet he seems an odd selection as a sparring partner for Miles as he was unable to absorb the brooding darkness that his bands often had.
The weirdest thing about this record is that the presence of Mobley and the ever-excellent Wynton Kelly give this record the feel of a contemporary Blue Note album. Listen to the track "Pfrancing" which is pretty much breezy in comparison with other Miles Davis numbers. The band works well as a unit and has the comforting , free-wheeling feel of a session that Blue Note would churn out with ease. Mobley doesn't feature on all the tracks and "Teo" witnesses the return of Coltrane and the stepping up a few gears tin the process. Cobb is a reliable drummer and perhaps at his best on the track "Prancing" yet he lacks the snap and crackle of Philly Joe Jones (who appears on one track and the bombast of Tony Williams. That said, where Jones does make an appearance on the bonus track "Blues no, 2", the result is the most free-booting track on the disk.
I don't think that Miles was capable of making a bad album at this point and the quality only seemed to tail off in the 1970's and the 1980's by which time he was increasingly irrelevant to the direction jazz was taking. This album is curious though. To my ears, Miles is good but the almost Shakespearean manner in which he dominated other records , whether with either of the two classic quintets or with the recordings like "Seven steps", "Mind of blue", and "Milestones" is less apparent. The album is agreeable enough yet the sense of progression starting with "Milestones" where the music was advancing so quickly that the energy is palpable through to the embryonic appearance of the second quintet on "Steven steps" on blistering tracks like "Joshua" is missing. In some ways this almost feels like a pause for breath. In summary, the tracks with Coltrane make this interesting but the remaining material is solid as opposed to spectacular.