CD Review of Cookin’ by The Miles Davis Quintet

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starstarstarstarno star Label: Prestige Records
Released: 2007
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Old school jazz doesn’t get much more classic than the Miles Davis Quintet, especially when Davis and his majestic trumpet are joined by equally legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. This would be the rock equivalent of a group that paired Jimi Hendrix with Carlos Santana or Eric Clapton. The rest of the lineup – rounded out by Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums – is rock solid. Davis may have put together more famous lineups for 1959’s Kind of Blue and the ‘60s albums with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, but the playing on Cookin’ stands tall and shows Davis evolving toward those later groundbreaking works.

The album starts with a ballad that endeared Davis to lonely hearts, “My Funny Valentine.” Featuring Davis’ muted trumpet and Garland’s plaintive piano, the song allows the band to get warmed up. The band then proceeds to get down to the “cookin” on the next four numbers, showing why Davis and Coltrane are among the most influential artists in music history.

“Blues by Five” is a straight-ahead blues tune that opens the door for Davis and Coltrane to trade off lines that get the toes tapping and head nodding. Garland and Chambers also provide solos before the tune swings back to the head where the rhythm section continues to propel the tune home. It’s good stuff, but the best is yet to come.

“Airegin,” a Sonny Rollins tune, is the track where Cookin’ really starts to sizzle. It’s an up-tempo jam where Davis and Coltrane feed off each other and generate an electricity that is often imitated, but rarely duplicated. The track’s only flaw is its brevity, logging at just 4:26. This is the type of smoking jam that jazz critic Ira Gitler was no doubt referring to in his original 1957 liner notes when he described how his hay fever stuffy nasal passages had been cleared by witnessing a live performance from the Quintet at the Café Bohemia in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

The last track, “Tune Up/When Lights are Low” keeps the music humming at a high energy level, as the quintet jams out. Hearing one jazz great do his thing is nice, but hearing maestros like Miles and Trane getting their groove on together is truly special. About halfway through the track, the Quintet brings the tempo down a notch but still keeps it swinging as they segue into “Lights,” where Miles and Trane summon a consummately classic jazz vibe. The band sounds perfectly relaxed, yet totally focused on their interactions with each other. This is timeless stuff.

Cookin’ isn’t the album to buy for newbies, most of whom would be better served by Kind of Blue or 1967’s Miles Smiles. But for jazz aficionados, the pairing of Miles and Trane makes Cookin’ a must have gem.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD