Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964 is an anomaly among the retrospective sets that have been issued from the late artist's catalog. It does not focus on particular collaborations (Miles with Coltrane, Gil Evans, the second quintet), complete sessions of historic albums (Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way, and Jack Johnson), or live runs (Plugged Nickel and Montreux). Instead, it is a portrait of the artist in flux, in the space between legendary bands, when he was looking for a new mode of expression, trying to find the band that would help him get there. These seven CDs begin after the demise of bands that included John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and Wynton Kelly, after his landmark Gil Evans period, and even after his attempts at creating a new band with everyone from Frank Strozier and Harold Mabern to Sonny Rollins and J.J. Johnson. The transition period depicted on recordings here is the one that would lead directly to the second great quintet, beginning with the addition of bassist Ron Carter and eventually Tony Williams in 1963 on Seven Steps to Heaven. That band also included pianist and composer Victor Feldman, drummer Frank Butler (before Williams), and saxophonist George Coleman. The album Seven Steps to Heaven is extended here with two previously unissued alternate takes of the title track and an amazing alternate of "Joshua" that opens the entire box, both of which were written by Feldman and added dimension to Miles' tried and true songbook. The track "Summer Nights" from this session is present here as part of these sessions even though it was originally released as part of Quiet Nights. Herbie Hancock enters the picture in July of 1963, replacing Feldman for the Live in Europe recording. The box includes unreleased performances of "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "The Theme" in addition to the original album.
Other unreleased material here includes a fine "Autumn Leaves" from the live dates that resulted in the albums Four & More and My Funny Valentine as well as those recordings in their entirety. These years also contain the Miles in Tokyo performances. These are uneasy yet utterly compelling recordings that star Sam Rivers on tenor as Coleman's replacement. Williams recommended Rivers when Coleman decided the band was becoming too adventurous for his tastes as a soloist. While these cuts don't necessarily work on a symbiotic level in terms of communication, they do help define the terms in which Miles decided how "out" to get with his developing band. By the time Wayne Shorter comes on board for the Miles in Berlin date, the picture is complete and the perfect balance has been found leading to the studio sessions that began in 1965 with the new quintet. All tolled there are seven unreleased musical performances as well as a handful of spoken band introductions to concerts that have never been available before. As is customary for Legacy, the music is all painstakingly remastered. The box itself is an art object, with a hard backing board, bound by a chrome metal frame, and resides in a handsome hard gray slipcase. It contains loads of photos, has obsessively detailed discographical information, and essays by Michael Cuscuna and Bob Blumenthal. In other words, for Davis fans this is another essential addition to the catalog.