Miles Davis

Plays It Cool [Metro]

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There must be a good reason that the packaging for Miles Davis Plays It Cool never mentions that nearly all of the tracks within feature Miles Davis as a member of various Charlie Parker lineups, but if there is, Metro Records isn't divulging it. But that's what this is: sessions recorded under Parker's name for Dial and Savoy Records (those labels are never mentioned either) between November 1945 and September 1948. Only four tracks -- "Milestones," "Little Willie Leaps," "Half Nelson" and "Sippin' at Bells" -- were recorded with Miles as leader (his first-ever sessions as leader, in fact), and those feature Parker on tenor sax as well. So while Plays It Cool does indeed include the young trumpeter throughout, this is really first and foremost a Parker record that just happens to document Davis finding his way. Miles isn't playing it strictly cool here, though, at least not in the sense that he played it cool when he got around to recording his landmark album Birth of the Cool in 1949, shortly after breaking away from Parker. Davis serves as a more than adequate sideman to Parker on these sessions, and his soloing is technically polished and never less than inventive. But his true Miles-ness isn't felt until midway, when those four tracks he leads cut into the Bird-athon. Suddenly it's as if the ideas he's bottled up have finally been given the chance to break free. Playing bop was a living and an education, and who better to play it with than Charlie Parker? But Miles had other things in mind and in retrospect, these early sessions can be viewed as little more than an apprenticeship. These recordings have surfaced on other compilations before, in various configurations, but this layout is a particularly smart and lively one. Rather than catalog multiple takes, the compilers chose one hot take of each "cool" tune so that the CD provides an exciting listening experience rather than a history lesson. With musicians like Bud Powell, Max Roach and John Lewis present on the sessions, the music's never less than stirring, even if the CD's headliner is mostly playing second fiddle.

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