Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Music of Miles Davis and Hank Mobley, Part 3: "Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall" (1961)

"Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall" album cover, 1961.

Hank Mobley and Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall, May 19, 1961.
In my last two posts I’ve examined the music that Miles Davis recorded in 1961, when tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley was part of his group. The other posts covered the studio album “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and the live album “In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk.” This post will examine the two-disc live album “Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall,” which was recorded on May 19, 1961, and was Mobley’s last recording with Miles Davis. The Carnegie Hall concert also featured the Gil Evans Orchestra, and it was the first time that Davis had ever performed live with an orchestra. Just like on the previous two albums, Davis’s group was comprised of Mobley on tenor sax, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. 

The songs on “Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall” are:

“So What”: The opening song is the only song on which both the orchestra and the quintet play, albeit briefly, as the orchestra plays the intro to “So What” that Bill Evans and Paul Chambers played on “Kind of Blue.” Unfortunately the orchestra totally blows the last note they play as the quintet takes over the song. Miles jabs like a prizefighter on his exuberant solo, and he hits some very high notes. Mobley begins his solo off-mike, but he quickly steps into the spotlight. Mobley delivers a typical melodic solo, despite a couple of reed squeaks. Wynton Kelly’s solo is as smooth as glass. 

“Spring is Here”: I have a confession to make: I don’t really like Miles Davis’s albums with Gil Evans. The music is pleasant, but it doesn’t make a lasting impression on me. I know, I know, I’ll give back my “jazz fan” membership card. “Spring is Here,” by Rodgers and Hart, was a new chart that was written specially for this concert, and it doesn’t appear on any of Davis’s studio albums. Bob Blumenthal makes the point in his liner notes for the CD that Bill Evans had recorded “Spring is Here” on his 1960 album “Portrait in Jazz,” and that Gil Evans’s arrangement pays homage to Bill Evans’s version of the song. You can tell when Miles hits high notes on this song that the sound quality of these recordings is less than perfect, as the notes sound shrill.

“Teo”: This song, named after Davis’s Columbia Records producer Teo Macero, was introduced on the “Someday My Prince Will Come” album. When it was recorded live at the Blackhawk, the title changed to “Neo,” for unknown reasons, and now at Carnegie Hall it’s back to “Teo.” The song has a Latin feel to it, and Miles plays a wonderfully exciting solo. He hits the highest notes I’ve ever heard him hit around 2:30 into the song. An excellent version of an underrated song. 

“Walkin’”: Miles is once again aggressive on this tune, firing off flurries of notes during his solo. Mobley’s solo is very good, as the hard bop sound of the tune compliments his style well. Kelly’s solo swings like crazy, and we also get an arco bass solo from Paul Chambers. 

“The Meaning of the Blues/Lament”: Two songs from “Miles Ahead.” Miles’s playing is excellent on these songs; although once again his high notes sound shrill, thanks to either Carnegie Hall or Columbia’s recording equipment. Honestly, the sound quality of the albums recorded at the Blackhawk is much better than the Carnegie Hall concert. 

“New Rhumba”: Another song from “Miles Ahead,” “New Rhumba” was a song written and recorded by pianist Ahmad Jamal. Jamal was one of Davis’s key influences during the 1950’s. Davis once said, “I live until Ahmad Jamal makes another record.” Davis liked Jamal so much that he had Red Garland record trio versions of “Ahmad’s Blues,” which Jamal wrote, and “Billy Boy,” an old song that Jamal re-arranged, for Davis’s albums that Miles doesn’t even play on. “Ahmad’s Blues” is on the “Workin’” album and “Billy Boy” is on “Milestones.” “New Rhumba” is one of my favorite songs from “Miles Ahead” because I really like Ahmad Jamal’s style.

“Someday My Prince Will Come”: A very short version of the title song from Miles’s new album, which wouldn’t be released until December, 1961. For whatever reason, Miles didn’t keep the song in his playbook, and this is the last live version he recorded of it. Mobley doesn’t solo on this short version.

“Oleo”: As at the Blackhawk, this Sonny Rollins song is played at a much faster tempo than the original. This version features an excellent solo from Mobley.

“No Blues”: Known as “Pfrancing” on the “Someday My Prince Will Come” album, this song retains the new title it gained during the Blackhawk sessions. Miles plays a very bluesy solo. Wynton Kelly’s solo is sparkling and sprightly.

“I Thought About You”: One of my favorite Miles Davis ballads. Davis plays a hauntingly beautiful solo on this song, which was a concert favorite of his. 

“En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor” (adagio from “Concierto De Aranjuez”): The first song from “Sketches of Spain,” it was bold and gutsy for Miles to try playing this live, as the recording on “Sketches of Spain” had to be spliced together from many different sessions. It’s a beautiful piece of music, and performed very well by Davis and the orchestra. 

“Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall” is a fascinating look at a very historic night of music. It’s the last recording that Hank Mobley made as a part of Davis’s group. Mobley left the group later in 1961 and resumed his solo career, making more superb hard bop albums for Blue Note. As noted in the post about “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Davis didn’t really care for Mobley’s playing. For whatever reason, Miles didn’t think their styles fit together very well, although I would say that all of the music they made together is excellent. Miles Davis had a number of health problems in 1962 and his only recording sessions that year were for the unsatisfying “Quiet Nights” album that would be his last album-length collaboration with Gil Evans. In early 1963, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb left Davis to form their own group. They went on to record several albums together, and backed Wes Montgomery on an amazing 1965 live date released as “Smokin’ at the Half Note.” Davis wouldn’t record with a small group again until the sessions for “Seven Steps to Heaven” in April and May of 1963. By that time, his group featured all of his “Second Classic Quintet” except for tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who wouldn’t join the group until 1964.

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