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The Legacy Of 1959

| June 10, 2009 | 0 Comments

Dave Brubeck Quartet | Miles Davis | Charles Mingus
Time Out | Sketches Of Spain | Mingus Ah Um


For its 2009 thesis, the Legacy reissue arm of Sony Music contends 1959 was jazz’s greatest year. While Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue would establish that for any jazz novice, the label tosses three other reasons your way. (And they already released the 50th-anniversary editon of Blue.)

Expanded reissues of classic albums are intimidating for neophytes, especially for something that gets treated as academically as jazz. Since forever it has been difficult to find an unaugmented version of Kind Of Blue, which foists the burden of history on someone just looking to enjoy the music for the first time. In that spirit, the expanded editions of Time Out and Ah Um are best appeciated by dedicated fans. Though the remastering is on par with what’s already on shelves, the packaging, notes, and extras (the Mingus disc has a PDF volume of extra liners and the full version of Mingus Dynasty, released the same year; Brubeck’s is joined by Newport Jazz Fest recordings from the ’60s, and a DVD with live footage, interviews, and a piano lesson). Asking a novice to begin here is like handing a first-grader Herodotus.

But Sketches Of Spain demands the full spectrum. That said, if you’ve never heard the album, don’t read any of the liners until after listening. Working with the great Gil Evans, Davis crafted the most surprising entry in his vast catalog by, for perhaps the only time in his career, facing backwards. Without spoiling it, Sketches defies categorization. It isn’t inaccessible, but don’t approach it if you’re tracing his steps from cool to hard bop to fusion. Calling it classical music is inadequate, but perhaps best. Davis was never the most technically accomplished musician, but working with Evans frees him from having to adhere too closely to the unbending lines on a staff and lets his lyricism take hold. It’s a haunting, sad piece, but immensely colorful. It almost comes off as like a film score, and it is based off a previous work. The bonus material includes Evans and Davis’ precursor work, as well as the only live performance of Spain‘s centerpiece suite.

As for Mingus Ah Um and Time Out, they’re as integral to any basic jazz collection as Kind Of Blue. Anyone who has been alive for more than 10 years will recognize more of the core melodies than they’d expect, particularly Mingus’ “Better Git It In Your Soul” and Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk” and “Time Out,” the latter of which was the first million-selling single in jazz history.

All: 10

Steve Forstneger

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Category: Spins, Weekly

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