Birdland 1951

Miles Davis

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Birdland 1951 Review

by Thom Jurek

These ten tracks, taken from radio broadcasts from the legendary Birdland in 1951, represent a particularly fruitful period in Miles Davis' development as a bandleader. There are three different broadcasts included here; two comprising six cuts in total were from June and September and have been issued in various forms on bootlegs over the decades. Four cuts, however, taken from a broadcast on February 17, have never been available in any form and it is these as well the marginally better fidelity of the entire set that makes this worth owning for Miles freaks -- and only Miles freaks. The sextet on the February and June dates included J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Tommy Potter, and Kenny Drew. In September, Charles Mingus, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Billy Taylor, and Big Nick Nicholas joined Davis and Blakey. The fidelity here is listed on the sleeve as "primitive." That's a nice way to say it sucks bad. These are better than Charlie Parker's Dean Benedetti recordings, but not by much. Soundwise, the best that can be said is that one can hear all of the instruments. The performances, however, particularly as delineated in the three different versions of the cut "Move," are stellar. They are inspired, furious, and cutting. Rollins outdoes himself in the June performance of the cut, and the latter band transforms it entirely. For the record, it is the only duplicate selection. Also, the live version of "Tempus Fugit," with its knotty head and punched-up rhythm, is revelatory in the manner of arrangement for those days and points a solid direction for the immediate future -- check the tempos and structure of the solo breaks on the September session for evidence. While this set is exclusively for those Miles fans who have to have absolutely everything, it is nonetheless worth it for those who have the bootlegs because of the heightened fidelity and the new session.

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