Baseball insiders, as well as those who just love the game, speak reverently of the “five-tool player”: that is, the rare athlete who can hit for average, hit for power, field, throw, and run. In the world of jazz during the mid-1950s, the first great quintet of the trumpeter-bandleader Miles Davis (1926-1991) was a five-tool band, and then some. More than any other ensemble, the Davis five could play burning bebop, churning hard bop, and blithely bouncing show tunes. They breathed new life into long-forgotten standards, and their deep-night ballads, featuring the leader’s insinuating, Harmon-muted melodic statements, could inspire love sonnets for the ages.
Moreover, each supremely gifted member of the group was very much his own man. There was the clipped lyricism of the nattily-attired Davis; the vertiginous flights of the rapidly-developing tenor saxophonist John Coltrane; pianist Red Garland’s bell-like chords and sunny solos; the buoyant lines and eloquent bowing of young bassist Paul Chambers; and drummer Philly Joe Jones’s nonstop drive and slick brush work. Davis and company set the bar almost impossibly high, as these 32 selections, the quintet’s valedictory for Prestige before moving to Columbia, make abundantly clear.
Recorded in three sessions by the legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder at his Hackensack, New Jersey studio to simulate “typical” nightclub sets, virtually every tune has become a classic. The mercurial trumpeter’s band is cookin’ on “Tune Up,” “Oleo,” and “Salt Peanuts” (with Philly Joe’s solo a model of percussive excitement and musicality); workin’ on “Four,” “Blues by Five,” and “Trane’s Blues”; relaxin’ on “When Lights Are Low,” “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” and “In Your Own Sweet Way”; and steamin’ on signature ballads such as “It Never Entered My Mind,” “’Round Midnight,” and “My Funny Valentine.”
Newly remastered, and with insightful liner notes by Bob Blumenthal, The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions is like a game-winning grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth—in four consecutive World Series games.