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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Prestige 0888072312227



1. The Serpent's Tooth (Take 1)
2. The Serpent's Tooth (Take 2)
3. Round Midnight
4. Compulsion
5. No Line
6. Vierd Blues
7. In Your Own Sweet Way
Miles Davis - Trumpet
Sonny Rollins - Tenor sax
"Charlie Chan" (Charlie Parker) - Tenor sax (tracks 1-4)
Walter Bishop - Piano (tracks 1-4)
Percy Heath - Bass (tracks 1-4)
Philly Joe Jones - Drums (tracks 1-4)
Tommy Flanagan - Piano (tracks 5-7)
Paul Chambers - Bass (tracks 5-7)
Arthur Taylor - Drums (tracks 5-7)

This is a CD reissue (remastered by Rudy Van Gelder) of an LP which combined two recording sessions - one from 1953, the other from 1956. Unlike many critics, I tend not to regard Miles Davis as a godlike figure. I agree that he was a talented player and doubtless a catalyst for other musicians. But to worship the ground he trod on tends by comparison to underrate other trumpeters who were technically more accomplished - such as Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie or the unduly neglected Charlie Shavers.

This album suggests that Miles was possibly becoming aware that his technique was not up to the speed and complexity of bebop, which made him change into a more measured (and ultimately more listenable) player. His shortcomings are accentuated here by the contrast with other more skilful musicians - notably Sonny Rollins and "Charlie Chan" (a pseudonym for Charlie Parker). This album is of particular interest to Parker's fans, because it is one of the few on which he played tenor sax instead of his usual alto.

However much you may worship Miles Davis, it is hard to overlook the fluffs and wrong notes he played. Here he adopts a less ambitious approach than earlier in his career, sounding at times like Chet Baker.  However, Compulsion is very much in bebop mode, with Parker as fluent on tenor as he was on alto sax. It is interesting to compare the approach of the two tenorists on The Serpent's Tooth, with Parker generally playing in a lower register than Rollins. Philly Joe Jones supplies some well-constructed fours on both takes.

Round Midnight is taken at a leisurely pace which suits Miles well, and Charlie Parker contributes a lyrical solo. Producer Ira Gitler suggested recording the tune to make enough tracks for a short LP but these recordings remained in the vaults until they were issued with the three 1956 tracks. These later tracks seem to have been less well recorded than their predecessors but they include some acceptable playing from Davis, Flanagan and particularly Rollins, who had already matured in the intervening years and was developing more of his own distinctive voice.

The first 1956 tune is called No Line, because Miles suddenly fades away in the middle of his second solo, leaving the rhythm section to continue for a while and then stop abruptly. Vierd Blues is a slower blues where Miles and Sonny blend well together. Miles betrays hints of his later understated style, while Rollins constructs his solo gradually but efficaciously. Best of all is Dave Brubeck's In a Silent Way, given a fairly sympathetic reading by Miles' muted trumpet and a swirling solo from Rollins (including a quote from Dearly Beloved!).

Tony Augarde




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