The Dave Brubeck Quartet/Miles Davis/Charles Mingus

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The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Time Out: Legacy Edition
Columbia/Legacy
5 out of 5 stars

Miles Davis
Sketches of Spain: Legacy Edition
Columbia/Legacy
4 out of 5 stars

Charles Mingus
Mingus Ah Um: Legacy Edition
Columbia/Legacy
4.5 out of 5 stars

Many jazz enthusiasts consider 1959 to be jazz’s landmark year.  Even though 1959 saw the deaths of jazz icons Lester Young, Billie Holiday and Sidney Bechet, the new sages of popular jazz were creating some of the most seminal work in the genre’s history.  Albums recorded that year included: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, the Oscar Peterson Songbook series and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come. These were the glory years for the genre; a time when jazz was king and its popularity was shown not only in the mainstream press coverage but also in album sales.

The glory days for jazz have long since passed, but Columbia/Legacy has put forth an honest effort to keep that tradition fresh by remastering and reissuing three additional albums recorded in 1959: The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain and Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um.

Out of these three reissues, which were all released on May 26, 2009, The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out is loaded with the most stellar unreleased material — featuring two CDs and a DVD. The material here speaks volumes.  Originally recorded in only three days, Time Out began as a musical experiment based on using time signatures that were unusual for jazz (hence the witty album title).

Even though executives at Columbia didn’t want to release it, Columbia president Goddard Lieberson stepped in and over-ruled them. And while critics initially panned it, Time Out became an instant jazz classic, mounting the charts for more than three years and going on to become the first jazz album to sell a million copies.  Anchored by the two, now-standard tracks “Blue Rondo á la Turk” and “Take Five,” the seven song album is still among the top selling jazz albums of all time.

Simply put, Paul Desmond’s saxophone on “Take Five” might be one of the most recognized melodies in popular music. The Time Out: Legacy Edition preserves this album in full glory with the original remastered album on the first disc. The second bonus disc features eight previously unreleased tracks recorded live at Newport in 1961, 1963 and 1964. These live recordings sound utterly amazing and it is a wonder these have never been released until now. Of the eight live tracks only “Blue Rondo á la Turk” and “Take Five” were originally featured on Time Out, giving the listener the opportunity to explore more of the Brubeck catalog.  Some highlights of the bonus DVD, which runs about 30 minutes, include vintage performance footage of the quartet, an interview with Brubeck on the making of the album, and an interactive, multi-camera-angle piano lesson.
Having just released Kind of Blue in early 1959, Miles Davis entered the studio later in the year to begin tracking what many call his most accessible album. The third collaborative album in his series of four with arranger and composer Gil Evans, Sketches of Spain focused on a collection of compositions that were derived from the Spanish folk tradition. Less improvisational than his earlier works such as Kind Of Blue, and much less experimental than later works such as Bitches Brew, Sketches of Spain was orchestral and near-perfect in arrangement. The album still retained Kind Of Blue’s modal feel and an example is the album’s seminal track, the 16-minute version of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” The album was one of Davis’ best-selling and is one of his most innovative achievements. Unfortunately, all of the tracks on Sketches of Spain: Legacy Edition are culled from previously released material.  Columbia/Legacy has released much of the Davis catalog over the years and, unfortunately, none of the material on this 2-CD reissue is new or unreleased.

The first disc features the remastered 5-track album along with the session outtake “Song of Our Country,” which was originally included on Davis’ 1980 album Directions. The second bonus disc features a plethora of outtakes, most of which can be found on the Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Recordings boxed-set. Some second disc highlights include the 17-minute version of “Concierto de Aranjuez,” pulled from Davis’ 1987 album Live Miles: More Music From The Legendary Carnegie Hall, and the disc’s last track “Teo,” pulled from Davis’ 1961 album Someday My Prince Will Come. “Teo” also features a lineup of John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. For casual fans this release might be perfect introduction but for hardcore enthusiasts there is no new material to explore.

While Brubeck and Davis might have surpassed bassist Charles Mingus in album sales, Mingus more than made up for it in influence. In 1959 Columbia booked Mingus for four separate recording sessions, two days in May and two days in November. What resulted in those four days were two albums of material, eventually released as Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty (1960). Being his first releases for major label Columbia, Mingus turned his attention to the material and wisely went for as diverse a set of compositions as he could create. Mingus Ah Um was released to both critical and commercial praise. With its film noir quality, Mingus Ah Um is considered to be one of the five truly essential Mingus albums. The Mingus Ah Um: Legacy Edition got it right. The 2-CD set packages all four of his 1959 studio sessions into one reissue. Not only do you get the remastered

Mingus Ah Um but the second disc also features the entire remastered album Mingus Dynasty. Placed around the two full albums are six bonus tracks and session outtakes.  This reissue would be a great start for anyone wanting to explore some of Mingus’ best work and definite compliment to any hardcore fan’s collection.

With all three of these albums celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, it is such a joy to see a record label celebrating them in the proper way. These releases will please jazz fans of the old guard and hopefully spur new interest from a younger generation of enthusiasts that view jazz as something their parents listen to.

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