Miles Davis -- Great 5 [5CD Esoteric remaster]

Miles Davis could say more musically with a handful of notes than just about anybody else armed with a thousand. Each note is placed perfectly, phrased flawlessly, and is channeled directly to the listener's heart. Well, at least his early stuff!  

I add that final, misplaced snark as criticism of Davis' later recordings -- drug induced and experimental. Let's just leave it at that. 

The great Japanese electronics company Esoteric chose earlier releases to remaster. A 'Great 5' if you will. And great they are, made even better, at least in the digital domain, by these superb remasters. 

Cheap, they're not. This set comes in at USD$250, 50 bucks a CD. Considering most Esoteric discs increase in value (the Wagner/Solti Ring is now over USD$1500!), you could think of this set as an investment. But for Davis fans, it is probably indispensable. 

Even though the recordings come from different years, locations, engineers and producers, the consistent sound quality is remarkable. Each CD has great power with no audible distortion, fantastic bass, gorgeous replication of the recorded space/event  -- although studio settings, there is a warmth and musical cohesion and consistency that I superb. 

Instrumental balances are spot on. Listen to Gil Evans' trombone section at the end of Bess, You Is My Woman Now from the album Porgy and Bess [1959 Columbia]. The most gorgeous sounding section with Davis fronting is plain beguiling. Yet the scrutiny of the restoration can be ear opening, as example, the sloppy sax section tutti in Gone from the same album. Great to hear Davis backed by a big band, and Gil Evans' of this time was sensational, including Philly Joe Jones on drums, Paul Chambers bass, and if you listen carefully, playing quietly but so beautifully, the great classical conductor, critic, and teacher, Gunther Schuller on his original instrument, horn. 

The other albums feature Davis with his regular smaller groups. Miles Smiles [1967 Columbia]  is straight hard bop album, full of driving solos by Davis and his later quintet of superstars including Wayne Shorter on tenor, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter bass and Tony Williams on drums. Man, Davis could pick the very best in sidemen. 

There's a free spirit in Miles Smiles, whether rhythmically or melodically that is never less than engaging. Look for slightly harder edged Miles, here. Once again, the sound is dynamic, in your face, and captures brilliantly the divergent talents and musical voices. 

The other three seminal albums, Milestones [1958 Columbia], Sketches of Spain [1960 Columbia] and the earliest album in the set, 1957's Columbia release 'Round About Midnight are equally fine - fantastic musicianship and consistently superb restoration recording.

Davis was always one for heavy articulation but in The Pan Piper from Sketches, his 'thunder tongue' almost comes through the drivers. You're there. Milestones and Midnight are small scale sets (quintet or sextet) but Sketches employs 19 musicians. The colours they produce are stunning and the recording captures them all vividly. 

A glorious set for a considerable sum, yes, but for CD fans, the medium does not get any better than this. The greatest jazz artist at the height of his powers, surrounded by genius and remasterings of Davis' dreams. Very highly recommended.