Miles Davis ‘Sorcerer’
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, AMOB 435
Guest Listener, Billy Pierce
My sophomore year of high school I was asked to switch from alto to tenor saxophone. In anticipation of this change, I vividly remember my dad taking me to best buy to get some CD’s so I could hear what a good tenor sound was. I got Giant Steps, Ellington at Newport and Free For All. The latter disks stayed packaged for a while…
From Trane, I fell in love with Joe Henderson and then I went off to music school where I short-sightedly didn’t listen to much of anything but modern jazz for six years, history be damned. Thank christ for vinyl, as its brought me full circle, back to the fathers of this music.
I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t spend much time with Miles’ second quintet until the last few years. I just couldn’t get into Wayne’s sound as a saxophonist, and frankly I failed to hear the groove in the band’s playing or their music. I’d usually get through one or two tracks and then just put on Unity for the millionth time. I’m glad that’s not the case anymore, maybe it has something to do with getting a little older.
I must say that these particular pressings done by MFSL have really opened my ears to the incredible depth, fragility and beauty of this band. At this point they have released ‘Neffertiti, Sorcerer and ESP’ all of which Id consider the best done LP versions of these albums. This music has quickly become a part of my ‘favorites’ cannon and more and more I feel that it constitutes the highest level of improvisation ever recorded. For five people to embody the level of trust and empathy that it took to play like this is really amazing, and we are certainly talking about some very strong musical and social personalities, making it all the rarer. Speaking with Bill, who has some special tapes of the band rehearsing, I learned just how sparse the amount of information was that they started with, and just how much pure improvisation the band was doing. I always suspected this, with the aid of anecdotes in both Miles’ and Wayne’s biographies and in trying to transcribe some of the tunes, but not to the level Bill describes. To me, this just elevates the music higher. In summation, I believe that the balance of freedom, poignancy (or rather intimacy) as well as the strength of melody generated by these five men really was a pinnacle for jazz music as an idiom
I also think it’s very special that this music was recorded on such a major label and so well produced. It is really a minor miracle when you think about it, given the nature of what they were trying to accomplish musically.
With regards to the sonics, I feel MFSL has done an impeccable job. The level of detail and dynamics is phenomenal and I complement them for the choices they made when mastering this in the 45RPM format. I compared both Sorcerer and Nefertiti to their original counterparts in my collection and not surprisingly, it’s not contest. The sound staging of the MFSL pressings is simply cleaner and more open. I can tell that there is a small high end boost, however it brings out details in the articulation of the notes which I can’t hear in the original pressings. On a side note, I really find the recording techniques of Columbia to be very different than Blue Note or Prestige from the same period. Blue Note recordings always sound the most raw in the sense that they give you the sensation that you are sitting right in front of the band and they are typically orientated just like the group would be on a stage, with little reverb or EQ adjustments seemingly. Columbia recordings always feel to me that you are looking down at the band, almost more of an arial view. It adds a bit more drama in the sound staging and even though it’s not as direct, there is a certain refined quality that I find really unique and intriguing.
Billy Pierce stopped in a few days ago for some minor repairs and it has become a highlight for me to play something for him and get his feedback and the many anecdotes which he can conjure up about almost any musician who comes on the system. Here are a few comments he had while listening to ‘Fall’ off of Sorcerer.
‘Man, this music is all Ive been listening too lately’
‘Most people don’t realize that the melody of Fall is in Ron’s part, what Miles and Wayne are doing is really just a contrapuntal line’
‘You know how Wayne says they were playing ‘without a net’, well this is a perfect example of that…. These guys just couldn’t make mistakes because even the mistakes were just so hip’
Me ‘I love how they recorded Herbie on this’
Bill ‘I was just thinking that man, this is really special’
During Herbies solo, when Tony switches to a straight groove’Tony really could just do anything on the drums man, I mean not only could he do it, but he knew when to which is what made him so great. I think he was really the only guy who could have played with this band at this time’
During the beginning of Wayne’s solo ‘You know what? I never realized that Tony switched for brushes here, wow!’
‘Really what these guys are doing is orchestrating, its a whole different approach to playing. A deeper approach’
Me ‘I think its fascinating that you can still feel the underlying swing even though everyone is playing across the time’
Bill ‘It has forward motion, It’s never stilted. When most people try to play this open there are always moments where the energy dips and then will eventually pick up again. That’s not the case with these guys, it’s always flowing. That’s really what it is; a flow and its super hard to do’
‘Musically speaking, it’s about trust. Even though they probably never said that out loud to each other, that’s the basis for everything they were doing here. It was complete trust. I don’t know what music can ever be like this again’
Thanks Bill, you're the man