December 2008

The Dave Brubeck Quartet - On the Radio:Live 1956-57
Acrobat Music AMACD015
Format: CD
Released: 2008

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

The Miles Davis All Stars - Broadcast Sessions 1958-59
Acrobat Music AMACD004
Format: CD
Released: 2008

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

by Joseph Taylor

The UK-based label Acrobat Music has an impressive, wide-ranging catalog of CDs of everything from obscure '60s soul to easy-listening versions of pop tunes (frankly, the mere title of Instrumental Bryan Adams sends a shiver through me). Acrobat’s US releases include live performances by Jefferson Airplane, Howlin’ Wolf, and Merle Haggard, plus several valuable collections of jazz performances that originated on radio. The recording quality on the jazz sessions is generally good, and the playing is of a high enough order to justify their release.

The 1958-59 broadcast sessions that Miles Davis recorded for radio on Mutual Broadcasting and for television on Art Ford’s Jazz Party are perhaps the best of this first series of Acrobat releases. Davis is leader here of a quintet, two sextets, and, on one track, a nonet. John Coltrane and Paul Chambers are the constants in all the lineups, and Cannonball Adderley is in three of them. Red Garland, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly are the pianists, with Philly Joe Jones and then Jimmy Cobb taking the seat behind the drums. With the changes in personnel, Davis and Coltrane make subtle adjustments to their approaches to the tunes, and hearing the three pianists over consecutive sessions illustrates how dramatically each changes the feel of a band. Two versions of "Bye Bye Blackbird," recorded roughly six months apart and played at different tempos, show how creative and distinctive Miles' musical thinking was.

The two Brubeck sets from 1956-57 and were recorded at New York’s Basin Street Jazz Club and Chicago’s Blue Note. Brubeck and Paul Desmond are joined by Norman Bates on bass and, on the majority of the tracks, Joe Dodge on drums. Joe Morello, whose drum work on "Take Five" is perhaps the most recognizable in jazz, is in for Dodge on the final three tracks. Desmond is in fine, elegant form, and while Brubeck is sometimes a bit heavy-handed, he is often fleet and melodically compelling. Bates and both the drummers are rock solid.

The sound on both discs suffers from the drawbacks one would expect from recordings sourced from AM-radio broadcasts. There’s some slight peak distortion on the Davis recordings and both discs have background noise, which, along with the introductions from radio announcers, give them a lot of period charm. But though sonically imperfect, the discs are musically worthwhile. Other recommended titles in the series include Frank Sinatra On the Radio: The Lucky Strike "Lite-Up Time" Shows 1949-1950 (AMACD013) and Carmen McRae Live at the Flamingo Jazz Club (AMACD014).