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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk,
Sony Music 0871062000



Disc 1 (Friday Night sets 1 and 3)
1. Oleo 2. No Blues 3. Bye Bye (Theme) 4. If I Were a Bell 5. Fran Dance 6.On Green Dolphin Street 7. The Theme

Disc 2 (Friday Night set 2)
1. All of You 2. Neo 3. I Thought About You 4. Bye Bye Blackbird 5. Walkin' 6. Love, I've Found You

Disc 3 (Saturday Night sets 1 and 2)
1. If I Were a Bell 2. So What 3. No Blues 4. On Green Dolphin Street 5. Walkin' 6. Round Midnight 7. Well You Needn't 8. The Theme

Disc 4 (Saturday Night sets 3 and 4)
1. Autumn Leaves 2. Neo 3. Two Bass Hit 4. Bye Bye (Theme) 5. Love, I've Found You 6. I Thought About You 7. Someday My Prince Will Come 8. Softly as a Morning Sunrise

Miles Davis (Trumpet)
Hank Mobley (Tenor Saxophone)
Wynton Kelly (Piano)
Paul Chambers (Bass)
Jimmy Cobb (Drums)

San Francisco’s Blackhawk club was renowned as much for its dinginess as for the calibre of the acts it attracted. There was no air conditioning beyond a fan; the carpets were worn and ripped in places; the black drapes that lined the walls were dirty, faded and moth-eaten... But, owing to its great acoustics and the responsive audiences that gathered there, the venue quickly established for itself a world-wide reputation as a centre for jazz. As Guido, the club’s owner, expressed it: "You gotta dig music, you come in here."

Miles, it seems, agreed with this summation, considering the Blackhawk his favourite club to play; and, with the release of In Person..., we finally get a glimpse of the kind of magic he created there. For the first time ever, all of the music from these two nights in 1961 (April 21st and 22nd) is gathered together without any edits. And, due to the wonders of digital remastering, the sound quality on this four-disc set is infinitely superior to any prior releases; every note, in fact, is rendered with such astounding clarity that it seems impossible to imagine that these concerts took place over forty years ago.

Miles’ accompanying band on the album forms, perhaps, his least-known ensemble, bridging the gap between the Coltrane / Davis era of 1950-60 and the Shorter / Hancock period beginning in 1964. This, however, is no average support, but a powerful collection of musicians, whose skills shine under Miles’ leadership. Jimmy Cobb’s drumming is absorbing throughout, taking central roles in ‘Oleo’ and ‘Walkin’, but showing great restraint whilst the others solo. Paul Chambers, likewise, is impressive on bass and, despite Miles’ concerns of excessive drinking slowing his quick reactions, manages to provide some frantic runs that must have left the audience marvelling. For Miles, though, the key component to this rhythm section was undoubtedly Wynton Kelly. Miles once described performing without Kelly as being ‘like coffee without creme’, and its easy to see what he meant; Kelly’s playing is as astonishingly responsive, yet totally unintrusive, as it was on Kind of Blue, providing the perfect complement to the famous Miles Davis sound.

The only weak link among the group, perhaps, is Hank Mobley on tenor sax. As numerous critics have pointed out, Mobley lacks the depth of emotion required to play alongside Miles - a deficiency that’s particularly clear here on standards like ‘Autumn Leaves’. And whilst he proves himself a competent soloist, he fails to achieve Coltrane’s ability for combining mood with pace...

And, on these recordings, this ability is key, as it’s pace that gives In Person its highly distinctive feel. Urgency dominates the sound of the album, with even Miles’ playing more showy and elaborate than on other recordings of the period. Generally, this hard-swinging sound works well, with classics like ‘Softly as a Morning Sunrise’ gaining new depth with the upbeat tempo and acting as the perfect showcase for the musicians. One notable exception, though, is ‘So What’, which sacrifices its plaintive mood and tension for dramatically increased speed. Even the band seem distracted by the change, Miles sounding ill-at-ease in his soloing, particularly at the beginning. Whilst some listeners may find this an interesting experiment, most will, no doubt, cringe at the desecration of those opening notes.

These, however, are small concerns, and relatively undamaging to the collection as a whole. Overall, In Person... is an fascinating recording that offers the listener a totally unique glimpse of Miles Davis the performer; and with such a vast mixture of Davis classics and standards there’s enough here to satisfy every taste. Friday and Saturday night’s recordings can each be purchased separately and, given the repetition, one of these may be enough for the general jazz fan. With fourteen previously-unreleased tracks, however, the four-disc set would make an excellent addition to the collection of any Miles connoisseur.

Robert Gibson

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