For those, like myself, who didn't know the patchwork albums "Water Babies" or "Directions", there is much to discover here. My attention was caught by "Two-Faced", a long piece which stands right on the fault line between the quintet's jazz and the dawning electric music. Not only because it uses electric keyboards, but also because the music is floating gently, instead of stretching into several directions as it did with the quintet. This nocturnal, chilled ambiance, laid in November 68, truly announces "In a Silent Way" of 3 months later.
As to these actual "In a silent Way" sessions, which really take less than half of this package, they reveal how much editing Teo Macero had to do to take the desired substance out of the sessions. Indeed, the opening "Shh/Peaceful" would never have had the impact it did if the session had been left unedited. Macero had to be bold enough to get rid of the main melodic theme which the band had come up with. You then realise the finished album is a result of a truly radical and thorough cleansing, but what's edited out in 1969 could still make a decent 1975 Weather Report album..... The same radicalism applies to the title track, stripped of all its chordal changes down to one chord... astonishing.
And there is the lovely surprise of "The Gettho Walk", quietly funky and bluesy, which is the main piece among the previously unreleased ones. "Early Minor" is a beautiful ballad too, but so bold was the concept of "In a Silent Way" that even this eminently releasable piece didn't make it.
finally, I would recommend this 3CD set also because, as with the other box sets, it gives you the whole story from one period - here , summer 68 to February 69, and tidies up the previous discographic and chronological mess.
This box contains the music Miles recorded between September '68 and February '69 and thereby represents the missing link between the Quintet box and "The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions". All in all, the set does not include very much previously unreleased music (actually only three pieces): most of it was already released on "Filles de Kilimanjaro", "Water Babies", "Directions" and, of course, "In A Silent Way".
However, one thing is really quite sensational: the presentation of the "In A Silent Way" recordings in their unedited form, the way the musicians performed these pieces. For this was arguably the most revolutionary aspect of "In A Silent Way": the way the editing technique was used. Certainly, Miles Davis and his producer Teo Macero used editing before (for example on "Sketches of Spain", "E.S.P." and "Miles in the Sky"), but only in such a way that two or more takes of a tune were cut together to form one final master.
Two things were completely new about the way editing was used on "In A Silent Way": 1. The composition is not determined from the beginning, but the final form of the piece of music is generated by editing together multiple different jams (and not just different takes of the same composition). 2. Large parts of the same recording are repeated unaltered. Especially the second point amazes: only if you listen very carefully, you will notice that the first 6 minutes and the last 6 minutes of "Shhh/Peaceful" are IDENTICAL (on "In A Silent Way/It's About That Time", it's the first 4 and the last 4 minutes). It is just a repetition of one and the same recording. As a consequence, you hear the same Miles Davis solo twice during one piece of music (!). Of course, this was (and still is) very unusual in Jazz, because Jazz is always about re-interpretation.
Another thing that strikes me about the editing is the fact that you hear almost every edit pretty distinctly on the original LP versions. And I am not quite sure if it was such a good idea after all to edit "In A Silent Way" and "It's About That Time" together, because in my opinion, the two tracks just don't really fit together.
So I think it is nothing less than fascinating to listen to these wonderful recordings the way they were performed. I for one think that this is reason enough to get this box set. It is most interesting to hear the original theme of the Miles Davis composition "Shhh/Peaceful" that features a beautiful melody played together by Miles, Wayne on soprano and John McLaughlin on guitar. In the final cut, Teo Macero edited out all composed parts, creating the illusion of a steady beat that went on for more than 18 minutes.
On the other hand, I have to say that not every note contained in the box is a "must have" (which is especially true for the second half of disc 1) and that's why I gave only four stars. However, for someone truly interested in Miles and his development, this box can be very interesting.
Generally, the Miles Davis box sets are great value and wonderfully put together, both the long boxes and the cd sized boxes (the latter have been phased out by Sony on the old releases, including IASW). For those new to Miles Davis, since you well might end up wanting to buy all the cds individually, an initial lay-out will serve you well. For those who already know the music, but are leery of the boxes, don't be.
The music here consists of the original IASW album, some previously unreleased takes of the IASW tracks, four unreleased tracks, tracks previously issued on the complilations which came out in the 70s/80s (Water Babies, Circle in the Round, and Directions), and two tracks which originally appeared on Files de Kilimanjaro.
I'm loath to say anything about the music. If you don't know this material, then you are being asked to pay a lot for something you might dislike. It forms a link between the end of the quintet, which was still playing something most people would recognise as jazz, and the dirty rock/funk sound of Bitches Brew and beyond. The overall sound might be described as ambient (the Files/Directions period material apart, which is transcendent boogaloo), rather than in your face. This is not wallpaper music, though. As with all of Davis, there is a rigourous intelligence at work, not merely some dippy evocation of mood. Much of it is beuatiful, some of it is joyful, some of it is fun, all of it is wonderful.
As a final note for those as interested in John McLaughlin as Davis, you don't get as much new Mclaughlin here as you do on the Bitches Brew or Jack Johnson box sets.
I had know the compiled version of "In a Silent Way" and loved it for years. I've listen it hundreds of times and never got bored of it. I frequently offered it to friends who I want to introduce to Miles' "New Jazz".
So I suspected that I would be disappointed by "the Complete Session". I wasn't! There is a lot more in the Complete Sessions than in the compiled version. Nothing boring! All good stuff, of the same quality as the compiled version - which is, by the way, is included in the album.
My recommendation: If you are not yet an aficionado of Miles' "New Jazz", start by buying the compiled album. If you like it - how couldn't you - give it to a friend and buy the Complete Session!
MD once said something to the effect that he felt compelled to change, musically speaking. This is one of those sets that prove this wasn't mere talk.
Having IASW expanded to a three-disc set is no kind of record company indulgence because even the sweepings off the studio floor have some kind of magic when Davis is involved. In the case of this set `The Ghetto Walk' is all the evidence you need. Davis's music at this point in his career had incredible poise, together with the perpetual feeling that he and his bands were always on the verge of something special and, once they'd laid that special something on us they'd go on to repeat the exercise, only radically differently.
These sessions are thus some kind of yardstick against which a lot of jazz-rock fusion should be judged. If that seems a little unfair then this reviewer suggests you compare the music that some of the musicians present here -Dave Holland for example- went on to make after they'd left Davis's band with their work here. You might find it doesn't amount to much when set against it.
The point at which Miles Davis started turning away from the traditional acoustic sound to his electric period. This transitional album shows the full extent of the work that went into that change, with many of these tracks not heard by fans until the late 70's helping to join the dots of how Miles got from A to B which at the time was a mystery. Quite a number of tracks are exclusive to this version, which starts with his initial experiments with electric keyboard from sessions which turned up on Filles de Kilimanjaro. In a Silent Way regularly comes up in lists of Miles' best work, but this exceeds the standard album release in so many ways. Whilst the original album is included, the work put in by Teo Macero is revealed with the original sessions used to compile the album - and more - finally revealed. Without doubt, this collection is up there with Kind of Blue - albeit in an entirely different genre. Get this before it disappears or gets priced beyond your pocket, you will not regret it.