Miles Davis

Ken Burns Jazz

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In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. Miles Davis is one of the most difficult jazz artists to anthologize well, especially within the confines of a single disc. Though merely finding a way to give equal time to the many phases of Davis' career is nearly impossible, this volume of the Ken Burns Jazz series tries mightily and more or less succeeds. The compilation follows the trumpeter's winding path through bop, proto-cool jazz, orchestral jazz, modal jazz (the legendary Kind of Blue period), hard bop (his hugely influential quintet of the '60s), and electric jazz fusion. Needless to say, the single-disc format doesn't allow for much time spent on any of these periods, and thus doesn't make for a very cohesive listen. Still, Ken Burns Jazz is surprisingly effective given what it's trying to accomplish, and provides a strong idea of the tremendous variety in Davis' oeuvre. Since the Davis volume of the series hops around so much, it's finally more of a jumping-off point than self-contained listening experience. The compilation allows neophytes to get their feet wet, sample small bites of Davis' many stylistic changes, and then purchase the individual works from the periods that most interest them.

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