The previous volume of The Bootleg Series, Freedom Jazz Dance, was something of a disappointment. It’s one thing to hear the complete sessions for milestone albums like In A Silent Way (1969) or Bitches Brew, (1970) but Miles Smiles (1968) – as good is it is – hardly deserves the same treatment. The outtakes were great, but they had already been made available on Water Babies (1976). And how many times do you want to listen to unfinished takes and studio banter?
The Final Tour puts this intriguing series back on track. Some background. Coltrane rejoined the Miles Davis quintet in January 1958, participating in two classic studio recordings – Milestones (February and March, 1958) and Kind Of Blue (March and April 1959). As 1959 came to an end, he felt more inclined to spin out on his own. Miles Davis’s manager had helped him negotiate a record deal with Atlantic Records, and in December 1959, he completed the recording of Giant Steps (1960), which was regarded as his breakthrough album. The “sheets of sound” – a term coined by jazz critic Ira Gitler – could be heard flickering on Kind Of Blue, but by late 1959, had morphed into a sound that was entirely his own. In truth, it felt closer to the ‘free jazz’ being espoused by Ornette Coleman than the modal jazz being spearheaded by Miles Davis.
Meanwhile, Davis had been booked to a European tour organised by Norman Granz, a package that also featured Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson. With solo dates booked, Coltrane did not want to go to Europe. In the end, he reluctantly agreed, “but he grumbled and complained,” Davis later wrote, “and sat by himself all the time we were over there.”
The Final Tour, then, reveals a band on the verge of splintering, a dramatic tension between the icy cool of Davis, eager to demonstrate his new sound to a European audience, and the urgent Coltrane, bursting with ideas of his own, and straining to pull the music in a different direction altogether.
The music is primarily taken from Davis’s more recent albums, ‘Round About Midnight (1957) and Kind Of Blue (1959). The four-CD set includes music from two concerts in Paris, two in Copenhagen and one in Stockholm, all recorded in late March 1960, so most of the audience will have been familiar with the music. Most of this music has been available over the years on unofficial releases, having originally been broadcast on the radio. This is the first time this music has been issued on Columbia; the sound has been remastered, and is now much cleaner, and as usual, there is an informative booklet.
The album opens with Cole Porter’s All Of You, which is taken at slightly slower pace than the album version on ‘Round About Midnight. When Davis hands over to Coltrane, he starts slowly, but within a few bars, he is splitting notes, and cascades of sound are bursting forth.
Miles responds by taking So What at a blistering pace, playing with a quiet fury of his own, perhaps trying to demonstrate that he was still in control. But Coltrane again picks up the gauntlet, pushing the boundaries of the tune to their limit, before handing back over to pianist Wynton Kelly, who delivers a fine solo of his own, and also succeeds in bringing the tune back under control.
Not everyone in the audience was enamoured with Coltrane’s new direction. There are signs of unrest during his solo on Bye Bye Blackbird, with some perhaps feeling that the standard deserved treating with a little more respect, whilst others applauded wildly at the end of his solo.
These frictions make for quite fascinating listening; check out the second version of So What, recorded in Copenhagen, when Coltrane pushes things further still.
Of course, it’s not just Davis and Coltrane; pianist Wynton Kelly’s contributions are particularly noteworthy, whilst drummer Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers do well to react to the demands placed on them by the two front men.
Whilst there was clearly tension within the band, the tour reportedly ended on a happy note, with Davis wishing Coltrane well, and giving him a soprano saxophone as a gift. As a result, ”he was in debt to me for as long as he lived,” Miles later joked. Six months later, Coltrane used the new horn to record My Favorite Things. Ironically it took a few more years before Miles understood the gift that Coltrane had given him.