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05/27/2003 8:20p ET
Brett Rudolph - Reviewer

In a recent review I was discussing just how much of an influence Miles Davis has had on the world of jazz, and bang, a bit of proof showed up on my doorstep. Well perhaps not quite that way, but close enough for government work, as the expression goes. However, I get ahead of myself; perhaps I should start at the beginning.

Miles Davis is perhaps one of the most famous of the jazz musicians in the twentieth century. His abilities as a trumpet player, band leader and overall inspiration to other musicians are legendary. Several of his band members went on to become legends in their own right, an even better example of how great a teacher and mentor he was at the time. However, throughout his career one of the most famous incarnations of the group was during the middle 1950s.

In the years 1955-1957, free from the drugs that had plagued his earlier years, Miles Davis had managed to bring together arguably one of the best sounding jazz quintets to date. The Quintet consisted of John Coltrane, tenor saxophonist, Red Garland, pianist, Paul Chambers, bassist, and Philly Joe Jones, drummer. These men together with Miles himself recorded several albums under the Prestige Records label, including the one this review is about, Steamin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet.

Before moving on to the review itself, there are a few more interesting facts that seem to almost beg to be told. The first is that Steamin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet, or Prestige 7200 as it had been previously known was actually released by Prestige after Miles had switched record labels to Columbia Records. This wasn’t a mistake. In fact, his abilities were so well thought of that Columbia, the largest jazz record label, knowing Miles’ talents and the fact that he has remained free of addiction, signed him before the end of his contract with Prestige. Although unorthodox, the agreement allowed Prestige the freedom to stockpile Miles’ recordings and release them even after his new record contract started.

Another interesting fact is that all of the band members from this particular group of artists playing with Miles Davis went on to have major careers in music. They were some of the most skilled and artistically adept pupils and peers in the career of Miles Davis. For example, John Coltrane was recently mentioned in a couple of Matt Rowe’s daily commentaries and his albums are continually released.

Steamin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet is perhaps one of my favorite of Miles Davis’ releases. It is a collection of works, basically standards, which are played with the flair for which Miles Davis is well known. Although the recording was done in the mid-1950s, the sound quality itself has weathered the years fairly well and through the help of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs has been restored to not only its original luster, but to the extent possible, far beyond. I say that because while its fidelity is superior, Mobile Fidelity chose to keep the recording in its original monophonic, so the sound staging isn’t as well defined as many stereo recordings.

The album is going to be released by Mobile Fidelity on June 24th, 2003 and will be available on a Hybrid Mono SACD. Basically this will offer you two different versions of the album, depending on the type of playback you have available. It will work on both a standard CD player using the red-book layer or the newer high fidelity SACD format using a different layer contained on the disc. As with many reviews, it seems far better to start with the lower resolution CD version and move from there.

While the standard CD version might not offer the higher capabilities of the SACD version, it is nevertheless a well done re-mixing and re-mastering effort. Starting with track one, “Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” a work by Rodgers and Hammerstein, it is easy to tell that this is a definite improvement on the older release of this album. The presentation is almost totally free of noises and artifacts that tend to plague older recordings. In fact, the music sounds much more real and alive then you might believe possible.

Salt Peanuts,” on track two of the album is another great piece to examine. The track contains a wonderful drum solo which is perhaps one of the hardest instruments to get to sound correctly. You can always tell when something isn’t right when the snare drums sound more like they shouldn’t. While I can’t claim the CD version restored what I would considered to be a totally life-like experience, the sound is much better than most of what I have heard in reworked recordings to date.

I enjoyed the CD version; it contains a very good re-mixing and re-mastering job. However, the problem comes when you make the leap to the SACD version. Unlike some albums, where the CD and SACD versions are extremely similar and with a good CD player you might have a difficult time justifying how much better SACD sounds, that isn’t the case with this one. As you will see, by moving to the higher fidelity format, the improvement is so great that you will likely never want to go back to the CD layer again.

Before delving into the SACD review, I need to mention that I have found jazz to be one of the most difficult genres to reproduce by any digital means. The complexity of the instruments and their interactions with the room make accurate recording and digitalization extremely challenging. It is one of those sounds that I personally enjoy much more on an old vinyl analogue recording then anything else. However, the SACD format allows the capturing and replaying of this sound far better then anything to date and this is a good example of how that works.

As with the CD version, I thoroughly enjoyed the first track of “Surrey With The Fringe On Top.” The differences I found between the two versions were perhaps not as profound as with others, but they were present. The increased dynamic range and overall fluidity of the music made listening to the work far more enjoyable. In fact I found myself humming along with the music before long.

Something I Dreamed Last Night,” on track three was another great example of how much more depth there is using the SACD layer. Although when Miles Davis plays the trumpet it still seems somewhat lacking on the mid to upper level treble, it is far and away superior to the CD version. While you aren’t able to quite distinguish the ripples in the sounds that result from playing a trumpet, you can hear their effects far more clearly making it a much fuller sound. It is as though most of the mist had lifted and you were almost able to see the full beauty of the landscape.

One last track that I must mention is number five, “Well You Needn’t.” It served to exemplify the artistic skill that both Miles Davis and John Coltrane possessed. Their playing off one another is something that I would purchase the album just to hear. Interestingly enough, this track also is the loudest one on the whole disc. In fact, when I turned on the sound level input meters on my preamplifier they were somewhat higher. This was later confirmed by my good old Radio Shack sound meter.

After the review was all done, I sat and thought long about this album. During the review it earned a place amongst my top favorites, but more importantly it proved to me just how good even older recordings can sound when they are given the skill and expertise they deserve to make it happen. Once again Mobile Fidelity has proven that they have the ability as they did in the olden days to take something good and make it better.

While the street date for the recording is still about a month away, you might have a chance at getting your copy quicker. If this album release is similar to others by Mobile Fidelity Sound Works then placing a pre-order with Music Direct, www.amusicdirect.com, might get it to you faster. The last release saw Music Direct’s customers getting them as much as several weeks before those of other outlets. However, the important thing is to get a copy, it will make a great addition to your collection even if all you are interested in is a good sounding fun album.


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212 Frech
FC1810

Miles Davis Quintet
Steamin'

SACD Quality

Released: June 24, 2003
Origination Year: 1956
Time: 40:08
Tracks: 6
Produced by:N/A
Engineered by: Rudy Von Gelder
DSD Engineer: Shawn Britton
Mixed by:N/A
Mastered by:N/A
Style: Studio
Format: SACD
Enhancement: DSD
Label: Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs
Website:
N/A

Miles Davis Quintet:

Miles Davis:
Trumpet

John Coltrane:
Tenor Saxophonist

Red Garland:
Pianist

Paul Chambers:
Bassist

Philly Joe Jones:
Drums

Track List

  1. Surrey With the Fringe on Top
  2. Salt Peanuts
  3. Something I Dreamed Last Night
  4. Diane
  5. Well, You Needn't
  6. When I Fall In Love