Reviews

Latest Miles Davis/John Coltrane Box Set Reveals the Marvel of the Final Tour

Justin Cober-Lake

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

Columba/Legacy

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.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Books

'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Music

Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.

Reviews

DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.

Film

On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Music

Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.

Music

Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.

Music

100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.

Television

What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.

Interviews

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.

Playlists

Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.