Latest Miles Davis/John Coltrane Box Set Reveals the Marvel of the Final Tour
The musical conflict and explorations of these jazz legends made for a stunning series of concerts that remain sharp nearly 60 years later.
The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6
Miles Davis and John Coltrane
23 March 2018
That 1960 European tour, as the set's The Final Tour name makes clear, marked the end of a pivotal era in jazz history, the last performances of the quintet that recorded Kind of Blue and the close to a significant collaboration between trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist John Coltrane. The tour may have a certain finality to it, but the sounds show more of a transitional moment. Davis continues his movement away from bop while Coltrane begins launching into his own strange sounds. The joy of these concerts (one not entirely shared by the audiences of the time, although memories of the music's reception may be a little colored by myth) lies largely in the divergent paths the musicians seem to be on, even as they manage to merge these efforts into remarkable group performances.
The ensemble is all Davis's, but Coltrane makes for the shows' highlights, particularly on disc one, which captures the infamous Olympia shows from Paris. Coltrane's playing on "Bye Bye Blackbird" gets the attention here, with much of the audience struggling to follow what he's doing. It may be that Coltrane's still struggling to follow what he's doing at this point – we're listening to him develop new sounds and new approaches. The waves and the squawks and the sounds that made jazz writers come up with onomatopoeia are here, and it's still a little weird even in retrospect. When Coltrane's abrasive attack ends, pianist Wynton Kelly comes in with his cool sound for a couple of minutes to restore order.
Kelly, like bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb, is easy to overlook on these recordings. He sounds unlike Bill Evans on the oddly fast versions of "So What", but he swings and grooves regardless of the chaos around him. Likewise, Chambers and Cobb play above average parts – they're just lost in their peers' explorations. Taking time to listen to the five shows here allows a listen to how their more focused playing fits in, not just in letting Davis and Coltrane take off, but in constructing fine pieces in their own right.
Davis, like Coltrane, leads this group while in motion. He'd recently released Kind of Blue, marking a true foray into modal jazz, yet much of the song choices here allow him to play more traditional numbers and stay at the edge of his bop sound. We can hear that unwinding, and even if we didn't know new sorts of experiments are coming, we'd hear them. For every melodic ballad like "Fran Dance", Davis gives us two numbers that push his current work, the reinventions of "So What" being the most obvious.
Davis pushes his playing and his thinking; new shapes and expressions take form. Coltrane pushes his instrument; new sounds and purposes come into being. Kelly, Chambers, and Cobb hold it together, and would soon become a fine piano trio. The divergence could have split the music. Chambers's hip solo on "Fran Dance" during the first Stockholm concert hardly fits with Coltrane's racing on the following number "Walkin'", though Chambers matches the sound when he solos on that number. Instead, the ensemble shows how much one group can contain, all of it overflowing all the time without quite becoming a mess. It captures a wealth of ideas, and not only those we know are about to come, but those that are springing forthright then.
These musicians would soon part ways for a variety of endeavors, and Coltrane's assemblage of his classic quartet with McCoy Tyner allows a noteworthy development after his work with Kelly. At this moment, though, nothing sounded more exciting than these five musicians thriving in one strange final tour.