Birth of the Cool (Capitol – 1957)
Recorded over three sessions (21 January and 22 April 1949 and 9 March 1950), Birth of the Cool broke away from be-bop and brought jazz into a new era. Led by Miles Davis who was then only 23 years old, the virtuoso madness and urgency of bop gave way to a slower, more carefully written, more harmonious, more ethereal, almost chamber music kind of jazz, dubbed "cool"... This was a style that didn't appeal to all jazz lovers: some complained about a certain coldness in this new form, which drew inspiration from classical music. Recorded in spaced-out sessions, Birth of the Cool featured an impressive cast: Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Junior Collins, Sandy Siegelstein, Bill Barber, J. J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Mike Zwerin, Al Haig, John Lewis, Joe Shulman, Nelson Boyd, Al McKibbon, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke and Gil Evans all participate in this velvety earthquake. Opting neither for the big band nor for the small group, Miles leads a nonet here, which allows him to emphasise the arrangements concocted for him by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis. The modernity and the rigour of the music played here probably marked some of the greatest revolutions in the history of jazz. However, disappointed by weak sales of this forward-thinking masterpiece, Capitol did not extend Miles' contract and he signed with the Prestige label instead.
Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet (Prestige – 1958)
This was one of the wonders produced by what later became known as 'Miles' first quintet'... The trumpeter brought together saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Paul Chambers. Relaxin' was recorded on 11 May and 26 October 1956 (and released in March 1958), in two sessions that would yield three more masterpieces: Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet and Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet. It became a sort of Bible of post-bop. The fury of be-bop seems light years away from the six tracks on this record, which are made up of themes that the band was then regularly playing on stage and whose studio versions are executed perfectly. It is also worth remembering the level of the repertoire. There are some magnificent themes here, written by the cream of Broadway writers such as Richard Rodgers ('I Could Write a Book'), Jimmy Van Heusen ('It Could Happen to You'), Harry Warren ('You're My Everything') or Frank Loesser ('If I Were a Bell'). Miles' quintet uses these strong, popular melodies to develop some striking exchanges that really hit the mark. Whether it be Garland's solo on 'Oleo', Trane's solo on 'If I Were a Bell', or Miles' hushed passage on 'You're My Everything', everything here borders on the sublime. Jones, too (one of the drummers the trumpeter would go on to mention the most in his autobiography) proved essential. "Philly Joe has the fire that was making a lot of this shit happen. See he knew everything I was going to do, everything I was going to play; he anticipated me, but felt what I was thinking".
Milestones (Columbia – 1958)
The first quintet, but with a plus-one! Recorded at Columbia Studios in New York on 4 February and 4 March 1958 and released on 2 September of the same year, Milestones brough a sixth element on board. In fact, it would prove to be a key element, as Miles would explain later, in his autobiography. "The idea I had was to add the blues voice of Cannonball Adderley into this mixture and then to stretch everything out. I felt that Cannonball's blues-rooted alto sax up against Trane's harmonic, chordal way of playing, his more free-form approach, would create a new kind of feeling, a new kind of sound, because Coltrane's voice was already going in a new direction." This contrast between the two saxophonists' different styles was the spark which brought about Milestones. With Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones and this additional guest, the trumpeter birthed yet another new masterpiece. No more evident is this than on the title track - an airy theme that has gone down in history and on which each artist strikes precisely the right tone. For this composition, Miles freed himself from certain harmonic constraints imposed by the piano. The alternation between two harmonic colours replaced the meandering progressions of bebop... On the cover of Thelonious Monk's 'Straight, No Chaser', Miles launches into a long solo that is as relaxed as it is inspired; a sort of endless wandering whose contours prove as unexpected as the twisting lines of rising smoke. Coltrane is impressive too. In his autobiography, Miles would insist that this was a special record. "I loved the way the band sounded on this record and I knew that we had something special. Trane and Cannon were really playing their asses off and by then were really used to each other. This was the first record where I really started to write in the modal form". Another feature of this masterpiece is the track 'Sid's Ahead', where Miles Davis finds himself at the piano as Red Garland had quit the session, furious at a remark made to him by the trumpeter.