Miles completists may already have these recordings, which have been circulated in bootleg form for years. Culled from original state-owned television and radio sources documenting festival appearances in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, and Sweden, this super-sounding three- CD set (with a bonus DVD of concerts in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Stockholm, Sweden) is being made commercially available for the first time.
This exemplary unit, regarded by history as Miles Davis’ second classic quintet, was solidified in September, 1964, when Wayne Shorter joined the band, replacing Sam Rivers, who had briefly taken over the tenor sax chair from George Coleman in the quintet. This outfit was first documented on the live Miles in Berlin, recorded on September 25 at the Berlin Philharmonie. Their first studio recording together, the landmark E.S.P., came four months later in January, 1965. And while this new unit established an almost immediate chemistry on the bandstand, their extraordinary rapport continued to deepen with subsequent recordings like Live at the Plugged Nickel (recorded December 22-23, 1965), Miles Smiles (recorded October 24-25, 1966), and Sorcerer (recorded May, 1967). By the time they left for a European tour in late October of 1967, Miles and his fiery young charges were hitting on all cylinders, naturally striding away from hard bop while moving toward the avant garde with an uncanny groupthink.
What instantly registers on these repeated renditions of tunes like “Agitation” (from E.S.P.), Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” (from Miles Smiles), and “Masqualero” (from Sorcerer) is the sheer supersonic speed and manic intensity of the playing. It’s as if they collectively took things up a couple of notches from the studio versions while opening up the form with their rhythmically elastic, shape-shifting tendencies. Drummer Tony Williams, just shy of 22 at the time of these recordings, fuels the proceedings with relentlessly probing, polyrhythmic attacks and lightning-quick hands on the kit. Pianist Herbie Hancock pulls the harmonies apart like taffy on these vehicles (his sparse playing and inventive voice leadings behind Davis’s trumpet on ballads like Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily” are particularly arresting) while Ron Carter’s zen-like restraint on bass is like the eye of this musical hurricane. Tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, the most original voice on his instrument in the wake of John Coltrane, provides crackling vitality with his oblique improvisations while playing the puckish foil to Miles on the front line.
The quintet’s fearless reinventing of familiar themes like “No Blues” and “On Green Dolphin Street” along with their hyper-kinetic readings of “Gingerbread Boy” (each wildly different from concert to concert) amounts to a perfect primer for what the late, eminent critic Whitney Balliet called “the sound of surprise.”
1968’s Filles de Kilimanjaro, with its introduction of electric piano and electric bass, along with a significant nod to Jimi Hendrix on “Mademoiselle Mabry,” would mark the beginning of a new phase for Miles that would lead to In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, igniting the 70s fusion movement. But on this George Wein-produced “Newport Jazz Festival in Europe” tour, Miles still had one foot in the bebop camp while his young charges were urgently pushing him to explore new musical territory.