OK buddy, you already own most of Miles Davis’ Columbia CDs, or at least the key titles. You’ve forked out for the odd box set or two and maybe even replaced the original CDs with shiny new remasters that beckoned with their cargo of alternate takes, unreleased gems and improved sound. And now this colossus emerges. Not just another box set mind, but the biggest box set ever produced outside of the classical music world. All 50 Columbia albums released during Miles lifetime – from In Paris Festival International De Jazz May 1949 through to Aura recorded in 1985 – plus the 2CD set, Live At Fillmore East (March 7, 1970) – It’s About That Time, released in 2001, and for the first time on CD the complete, jaw-dropping performance from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. It’s without question the most important single artist catalogue in jazz history and one that pioneered and landmarked almost every new phase of the music since the 1950s. But hey, do you need to buy them all again?
For starters the remastered sound quality across all 50 albums trumps the original CD releases and even improves on some more recent reissues in comparative A/B listening tests, revealing a crisper top end, deeper more resonant bass and more pronounced detail in the middle spectrum. Many of the titles come with bonus cuts taken from the now hard-to-find “metal spine” box set series that have been included on remastered editions since the late 1990s. And for the final touch the albums have been marched down to Columbia’s costume department and dressed in beautiful new mini-LP replica cardboard jackets, similar to the mid-1990s Japan Mastersound series.
But it doesn’t stop there. Two previously unreleased tracks have been added to In Paris Festival International De Jazz, May 1949; three bonus cuts from the Miles and Gil Evans box are added to Quiet Nights including ‘The Time of the Barracudas’ suite and ‘Devil May Care’; the 2-CD set, At Plugged Nickel, is expanded with the full length unedited versions of the tracks taken from the long out-of-print Complete At The Plugged Nickel box, and the 1982 live album, We Want Miles, is expanded for the first time with three additional tracks from the Tokyo concert. Pangaea devotees will be pleased to find it includes the unedited length cut of ‘Gondwana’ from the Japan Mastersound version, though sticks to the original version of Agharta.
A bonus DVD, Live In Europe ’67 includes two previously unreleased concerts from Stockholm and Karlsruhe, Germany, featuring the second classic quintet of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams deconstructing standards and exploring then new material such as ‘Agitation’ and ‘Footprints’. Beautifully filmed in crisp black and white and produced by the same team responsible for the award winning Jazz Icons DVD series, this is the band at their peak, pushing the music’s boundaries to breaking point while being driven by Williams’ astonishing inventiveness. Completing this limited edition box set is a 250-page biography of Miles, album annotations, rare photos and a complete tune index. And now comes the killer. To buy these titles individually, even if they were all available, would set you back over £350. This beautifully put together box set however retails for a remarkable £160, or less. To echo my late Jazzwise colleague, Keith Shadwick: “Run, don’t walk to the record store.” It’s a no-brainer, really.
– Jon Newey