No doubt for many fans, not around in the late 1950's/early 1960's, when stereo was marketed to a relatively small number of "Hi-Fi Buffs" or "stereo enthusiasts", having these albums in their mono versions, available once again, may not seem like much. But to those Davis fans who were around then, this is something special.
"In short, you can purchase this record with no fear of it's becoming obsolete in the future." The "small print" on the back of a 1959 Columbia Records mono edition of a Miles Davis album.
Chances are if you're reading this you're at least familiar with a few (if not all) of these albums--now in wonderful sounding monophonic sound. The best of these albums include some of the finest jazz of the Twentieth Century. And with fans now able to hear them in mono, we have a chance to better hear what the music originally sounded like back when it was recorded. And this box set does the job it was intended to do.
"Mono featured less audio trickery and fewer audio distractions, so you can actually hear the musical conversation between Miles and the other musicians as it occurred in the studio." George Avakian.
The music itself (obviously) hasn't really changed, just the way we hear it. And for fans of monophonic sound (like me) there's no real revelations across these albums (the majority featuring Coltrane alongside Davis), just a smooth, clean mono sound. I keep hearing that the master mono tapes for the album "Kind Of Blue" have been missing for many years or they have deteriorated beyond use, and if so, the engineers have done a fine job with that classic album. Do a comparison of the stereo editions with these mono editions and I think you'll hear the difference is notable. Instruments that sounded slightly low in the mix now have agreeable space around them--you'll hear with more clarity the different instruments that in the stereo versions seemed to be in the background.
"Can he play?" Davis asking about Coltrane.
"Uh huh." Philly Joe Jones' understated answer.
And the "rare" albums--the soundtrack to "Lift To The Scaffold" (a personal favorite--and dig that crazy 50's cover man!) and the Miles and Monk live sets--have been around for years, maybe not with the original album graphics ("Lift To The Scaffold"), but still easily obtainable. And the three tracks ("On Green Dolphin Street", "Fran-Dance", and "Stella By Starlight") recorded in 1958, just before the "Kind Of Blue" sessions, have been previously available. But saying that, all three tracks are well worth having (especially the nearly 10 minute "On Green Dolphin Street") because they reinforce how good this band was. But I don't understand why Sony is touting these albums as some kind of long lost rarities.
The booklet contains a fairly long essay with good information on the various albums and tracks and how they were mastered for monophonic sound, along with period photos. Any lengthy information on the individual albums, the musicians, or the music itself has already been written about in previous album notes, and can be found elsewhere. Plus it's nice to have all the original album covers (not just the "Lift To The Scaffold" soundtrack album) for these seminal albums--a small point but it is nice. Several of these albums featured different cover graphics over the years depending on who released them--the Fontana label is a good example. The outer packaging is similar (though slightly smaller) to the Dylan mono collection from a while back. Everything is nicely done--the clean sound, the thick booklet and the clean looking outer packaging--make this a beautifully understated looking and (most importantly) fine sounding collection.
And while I own all the Davis box sets, plus various individual albums (both CD and original vinyl from way back), I can't help but think that this mono set may be another way for the big labels to grab more of our money. Miles Davis has said in the past that the original albums should speak for themselves--that's it. And Davis' long time friend and producer Teo Macero has said repeatedly that Davis would never have allowed most, if any, of the extra tracks appended to the original album's finished tunes for release. But I have to admit I do like hearing most of the extra tracks that have been issued on the various box sets. For me some tracks do give a better understanding of the finished music, and some don't.
"My music has to get past me, and I'm too vain to play anything I think is bad." Miles Davis.
I'd like to think I'm wrong, but I still have a picture in my mind of a slyly smiling dark suited accountant, with his hand holding open his pocket, so my (and other fan's) money can more easily slip into it. But the chance to get closer to the "original" mono sound will no doubt suck in a number of fans (obviously including me) who want to hear what Davis and the producers/engineers heard way back in another era.
It's nice to see that this fine set is now available at a more realistic price ($50 or so) even if it's from only a very few U.S. sellers. For whatever reason this set seems to be readily available at a decent price in Europe. Hmmm. Hopefully more U.S. sellers will have this in stock at a good price soon so more fans will be able to afford it. This isn't an "import" from Europe so I'm perplexed as to why it isn't readily available from a good number of U.S. sellers.
I realize that mono sound isn't everyone's cup of tea. But for those of us who've been waiting for this set to be released, the wait has been worth it. Hopefully, wherever Miles Davis is, he isn't too unhappy with what's happening to his music.
And for a fantastically illustrated large format book on Davis, check out "Miles Davis the complete illustrated history" (sic), with contributions by Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Ashley Kahn, Francis Davis, George Wein, Ron Carter, Clark Terry, and a number of others who knew Davis. But it's the memorabilia reproduced from Davis' entire life that takes center stage--photographs, ads, posters, album covers, etc. If you're a Davis fan you probably need this book.