Miles Davis / John Coltrane: The Best of Miles Davis and John Coltrane (1955-1961)

[16 April 2001]

By Peter Bryant

Reviewing a Miles Davis/John Coltrane “greatest hits” CD is a lot like adding up all of Stephen King’s book sales. In a lot of ways it is silly because we already know that almost everything he’s ever written has been on the bestsellers list. In the same respect Davis and Coltrane are both undisputed masters of their art, and I’d dare say you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would give this compilation a bad review. This has selections from Milestones, Kind of Blue and Davis’ first album Round Midnight. So before I go any further let me say that there is no bad song on this whole album. Coltrane’s punctuating tenor saxophone lines blend Davis’ own brash style of trumpeting with the smooth sounds of such distinguished artists as Cannonball Adderley. This is jazz at its finest and I have no problem at all expressing my own amazement at the talent both Miles Davis and John Coltrane possess. The problem with this disc comes from a different source. Namely, these are not the duo’s best tracks. There are three songs on this CD that I would rank among the best, but the rest (while astounding from any other source) simply do not exemplify The Best of Miles Davis and John Coltrane (1955-1961).

So what do we have here? Well this collection has some beautiful pieces indeed. “Milestones” (off the album of the same name) is a perfect primer for the new fan looking for either Davis’ or Coltrane’s best work. Coltrane seems to be able to rip into the fabric of sound with his saxophone and pull out only the best notes. Davis punctuates Coltrane’s riffs with short staccato bursts of pure energy. The fluidity of Coltrane’s saxophone allows a stark comparison to Davis’ own rough and unpolished style. Setting both next to each other allows the listener to really hear the talent and creativity that both of these artists possess. “So What” and “Blue in Green” are both taken from Kind of Blue, which is the strongest album of Davis’ career. “So What” is so laid back and “cool” that its easy to miss the complexity of the arrangement. It seems to be repetitive (not badly repetitive, but like a really catchy chorus), but on further inspection it becomes apparent that you haven’t heard that trumpet riff before, and that the sax line that comes after it is completely different yet equally amazing.

The question remains as to what exactly my reservations about this compilation are. It isn’t that this isn’t great material, instead the problem is that we don’t hear enough epic material. “Two Bass Hit” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” are both great songs, but we’re missing some even greater pieces. This is supposed to be The Best of Miles Davis and John Coltrane (1955-1961), but it appears that whoever put this CD together paid more attention to the dates in the title than the other words. If this was truly a best of album, we would see, without a doubt, “Flamenco Sketches” from Kind of Blue. We would hear material from Milestones and Kind of Blue that would light the listener’s hair on fire. The second problem with this CD is quite simply that there are not enough songs at all. Nine songs are not enough to capture the spirit of these masters’ collaborations. Nine songs just get me to thinking about how badly I want to pop other Davis/Coltrane albums into my stereo instead. And maybe that is a calculated move on the record company’s part. Maybe they realized that this collection would just whet the appetite and practically push listeners to the local record shop to buy more albums. Regardless of the intention, this CD is amazing because of the players represented on it. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to its name as “the best of . . . .”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/davis-coltrane-best/