The Quintet's Best


I invite you to stop reading this right here, if you like, and find someone with a copy or a sample of "My Funny Valentine" from The Very Best Of The Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige), one of five new Very Best Of titles released just in time for summer. Listen to "Valentine" and you'll already know what this means to say.

This remarkable set captures the first great Miles Davis Quintet -- with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, a monumental collection of individual talent that simmered their egos away in a hot jazz stew -- at the height of their powers. They sizzle through uptempo numbers written by contemporaries like Thelonious Monk (the herky-jerky "Well, You Needn't") and Sonny Rollins ("Airegin" and "Oleo," which Coltrane and Garland melt like butter).

Even so, Davis' own sweet way with some of these ballads is beyond incredible. He and Chambers stretch "Just Squeeze Me" into a relaxed walking blues, his trumpet tone closer to a whisper than a scream. That tone thoroughly haunts the brooding song, eloquently crafted and as sharp and smooth and cold as marble, that Davis' trumpet sings through "'Round Midnight."

But, you can begin and end with "My Funny Valentine" (actually a foursome, with Coltrane out). Davis' tender verses seem to make time stop moving, so you and the music stand still, transfixed in the ecstasy of his strongly emotional and vulnerable sound. No one ever played a ballad more pretty than this.