May 24, 2024

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John Coltrane in Europe, ’60. Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson were part of the tour as well: Video

The review of the new four-CD box set, Miles Davis & John Coltrane—The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 (Columbia/Legacy).

The box features five concerts in three European cities in March 1960 by the Miles Davis Quintet featuring John Coltrane. Seven months after the release of Davis’s Kind of Blue, the trumpeter had persuaded Coltrane to join him and pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb in Europe as part of a three-week Jazz at the Philharmonic swing through seven countries. Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson were part of the tour as well.

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Coltrane agreed to go, but he wasn’t exactly happy about it. Remaining distant from the group during the tour, Coltrane told Davis he was going to leave the ensemble to start his own quartet when they returned to the States in April. The news left Davis uneasy. No one likes change, not even star jazz musicians. But as this box shows, Coltrane was more than ready. Months earlier, he had recorded the albums Giant Steps and Coltrane Jazz. The latter wouldn’t be released by Atlantic until January 1961, but both were confidence builders that he was on to something big.

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While the material in this new box has been previously available on several European bootlegs, this is the first time the music has been cleaned up and issued officially by Columbia/Legacy in the States. The resulting sound is gorgeous.

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On the set, you’re hearing Coltrane at the cusp of a revolutionary period in his career that would deeply alter jazz history. Once he signed with Impulse in 1961, the tenor saxophonist would embark on a monumental journey that dramatically lengthened the saxophone solo, freeing it up spiritually and putting the instrument on par with rock’s electric guitar in terms of its ability to wail and solo at length. In fact, Coltrane is often cited by rock musicians that I’ve interviewed as a primary listening source during the 1960s.

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Throughout this box, Miles takes delicate trumpet solos first before he’s all but run over by Coltrane’s mack-truck solos. On song after song, Coltrane uses his instrument like a flame thrower, unleashing sizzling lines of improvisation, giving every impression he could have gone on for several hours on any of the songs. You have to give Davis credit: He must have known how dull he sounded in comparison to Coltrane’s playing and he must have been astonished by Coltrane’s growth five after discovering him.

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When Coltrane returned, he assembled one of the great quartets of all time—featuring McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Coltrane’s departure gave Davis a shove. By 1964, Davis had his new quintet in place—Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums.

What makes this box so fascinating is that we get to hear Coltrane at the moment he becomes Davis’s equal. And he took every opportunity to make his point so Davis was absolutely clear why he had to go out on his own. At the same time, Coltrane provides us with an strong sense of his artistic plans for the remaining years of his life. His music would only become more electrifying.

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There are only a bunch of live albums up until 1960 in which you can hear jazz history change before your ears. I’d say the list includes…

  • Count Basie: Live at the Savoy (1937)
  • Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall (1938)
  • Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at Town Hall (1945)
  • Miles Davis and His Orchestra at the Royal Roost (1948)
  • Lennie Tristano: Chicago, April 1951 (1951)
  • Sunday Jazz at the Lighthouse (1953)
  • Max Roach & Clifford Brown in Concert (1954)
  • Miles Davis at the Newport Jazz Festival (1955)
  • Sonny Rollins: A Night at the Village Vanguard (1957)
  • The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet, with Ornette Coleman (1958)
  • Miles Davis & John Coltrane—The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6. (1960)

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