953 - Miles Davis 'At Carnegie Hall - The Complete Concert' (1961)

My Rating: 2.64 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: X
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): --/59

Favourite Tracks: Meaning Of The Blues/Lament, New Rhumba
Least-Favourite Tracks:

I’ve never seen a greatest album list that didn’t feature at least one Miles Davis record but by the same token I’ve never seen one that featured this particular album either. And there’s a reason for that… it’s really not one of his best.

So why, considering all the classic Miles Davis albums out there, did the people who voted for the All-Time Top 1000 Albums choose this one? Well, for jazz fans it represented something of a historical event; Miles did countless live performances over the years but he only ever did two concerts alongside his celebrated collaborator Gil Evans. Yet as an archive of this momentous occasion, the original 1961 live album was flawed because it only included half the concert. Then after four decades or so, someone at the record label finally twigged that it might be a good idea to reissue an expanded version of the album that featured the complete show. This new 2-CD edition caused something of a stir with jazzers on its release in 1998, which coincidentally was when the All-Time Top 1000 book was being compiled and hence it grabbed a good deal more votes than it might in polls nowadays.

Like many teenagers I was a music nut. Back in the vinyl days I used to head into London’s West End every weekend & scour the second-hand record shops looking for anything interesting (and cheap). I’m not sure why, but one day I returned home with a brand new Miles Davis LP – Porgy & Bess. It was the first jazz album I’d ever bought & like many new listeners, the combination of Gil Evans’ lush orchestral arrangements & Miles’ melancholic trumpet solos soon had me under their spell. So I was very much looking forward to hearing this album, but have to report that I found it rather disappointing. First & foremost the recording quality is simply not good enough; the first horn blast of opening track So What squawks painfully out of the speakers and throughout the album unpleasant distortion occurs whenever Davis hits the high notes. Of course it doesn’t help that his trumpet is placed so piercingly loud in the mix. You can be pretty damn sure that Miles insisted on being the loudest thing onstage but the overloaded sound & the volume hike every time we move from a sax or piano solo to his trumpet just ruins almost every song.

Next disappointment for me was the lack of Gil Evans. Having gone to all the trouble of assembling his orchestra & installing them all onstage, Davis curiously leaves them twiddling their thumbs for most of the concert & only employs them on a handful of songs. OK we do get the 17 minute long Concierto de Aranjuez but considering it was such a rare event for him & Evans to perform live together, I did expect to hear more than 3 songs with full orchestration.

As for the content, well naturally there are some terrific performances here (especially from saxophonist Hank Mobley) but on the whole it has the niggling feel of a greatest hits run-through. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising considering the nature of a Carnegie Hall audience, but I still felt that some of the playing was a little scrappy and often lacked the intensity & emotiveness of the studio recordings. Apparently the day before the concert, Davis had peevishly decided that he didn’t want to perform & even refused permission for the event to be recorded. That might explain the uncharacteristically aggressive edge to his playing on this album. It certainly explains the poor sound quality as some reviews state that the recording had to be secretly captured using a few microphones hidden onstage. Either way, I'd say this is one for Miles Davis buffs only.


Anonymous said...

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