Concord Music Group has assembled three new titles in its ongoing Definitive series, one of which marks the series' initial foray into CMG's vast blues catalog. The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige; The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy; and The Definitive Albert King on Stax span a total of 60 years and include the music of two monumental figures in jazz and an equally influential figure in the blues. Each of the two-CD collections is set for release on April 5, 2011.
The two dozen tracks of The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige follow the creative evolution of the most revered trumpeter in the annals of jazz. Spanning the first half of the 1950s, the collection captures Miles at the beginning of his breakthrough to mainstream appeal, according to the liner notes by music journalist and historian Ashley Kahn.
"The purpose of this collection is to deliver a full, definitive overview of that very special period in Miles's career," says Kahn. "Its focus covers the nearly six-year period when the trumpeter was signed exclusively to Prestige. Disc 1 offers the best of his 1951 to '56 sessions primarily as a leader of various ad hoc all-star ensembles. Disc 2 provides a generous sampling of Miles the bandleader, in '55 and '56, at the helm of one of the most groundbreaking groups of the day."
The collection also chronicles Miles's dramatic artistic growth over a relatively short time, says Nick Phillips, Concord Music Group's Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R and the producer of the collection. "The years between 1951 and 1956 are not a huge amount of time, but the development by Miles — as a musician and as a bandleader — is pretty astonishing in this period," says Phillips. "This culminates in what ended up being one of the most legendary groups in jazz, the Miles Davis Quintet, featuring John Coltrane."
The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy tracks more than two decades of recordings by a highly influential figure in jazz piano. "It would be difficult to think of a major jazz pianist emerging after 1960 who did not take Bill Evans as a model," says jazz journalist Doug Ramsey, who wrote the liner notes for the 25-song collection that begins in the mid-1950s and ends in 1977. "Indeed, many seasoned pianists who preceded Evans altered their styles after hearing him."
What's more, "Evans had a profound effect on how musicians play jazz and how listeners hear it," says Ramsey. "He is so much a part of the jazz atmosphere that many musicians — regardless of instrument — who came of age in the 21st century are not conscious that his concepts helped form them."
The collection also gives proper attention on the second disc to Evans's Fantasy-era recordings of the mid-1970s, says Phillips, who also produced the Evans collection. "Because the Riverside sessions are so acclaimed and so legendary, the Fantasy tracks are often overshadowed," he says. "But in listening to this collection, you realize that Evans was still creating some amazing recordings throughout the Fantasy period with some high-caliber musicians, like Eddie Gomez, Kenny Burrell, Lee Konitz, Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, and Philly Joe Jones."
The Definitive Albert King on Stax follows 15 years worth of recordings — from 1961 to 1975, plus a final track from 1984 — by a bluesman who'd spent the early part of his career playing to an African-American fan base in the roadhouses and theaters of the chitlin' circuit. But by the latter half of the 1960s, the genre "was now attracting the rapt interest of young white listeners, their sensibilities opened wide by the muscular, in-your-face blues rock of the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and Jimi Hendrix," says roots music historian Bill Dahl in his liner notes for the collection. "These new converts were gravitating to the best the idiom had to offer. No single blues guitarist made a more stunning impact during that tumultuous timeframe than Albert King."
"For as paradoxical as it might sound, you could make the case that Albert King was a cheery blues guy," says Chris Clough, Concord's manager of catalog development and producer of the Albert King collection. "He had that wry smile, and he often smoked a pipe. He was always well dressed and dapper. He was genuinely interested in putting on a show for his audience, and that sensibility comes through on these tracks."
Dahl suggests that the years between 1966 and 1975 were a "Golden Decade" for King. "He was with Stax that entire time," he says, "right up to the Memphis label's unfortunate demise, cutting one enduring blues classic after another as he scaled the charts over and over again. In the process, King deeply influenced countless up-and-coming blues axemen, even though the ringing licks he coaxed out of his futuristic Gibson Flying V were all but impossible to accurately recreate."