REVIEW: Miles Davis Quintet – Cookin’ (Van Gelder)

This is my fifth review (1, 2, 3, 4) in a series of releases from Prestige Records that feature legendary sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s remastered versions of his own originals. In this outing, originally recorded in 1956, the title says it all: Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet. Joining Davis in the quintet were young John Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones.

Miles Davis is of course one of the icons of jazz, as is Coltrane, and it’s intriguing to hear how they sounded at this point in their careers. Davis was already a well-established star but was always trying to stretch himself, and Trane was developing his own identity as a star in the making. The quintet recorded a series of 4 connected albums for Prestige at that time — Relaxin’, Workin’, Steamin’ and Cookin’, which is the one we’re covering here.

It’s just 33 minutes of music, but for the most part quality triumphs over quantity, starting with the first cut. Although he gets some good support, especially by Garland’s piano, Davis is pretty much the whole show on this version of “My Funny Valentine”. It’s his first recording of a song that became one of his signature tunes, although some say he began to avoid it in later years.

“Blues By Five” gives Coltrane a little more to do and the freedom to do it, and he has some nice soaring solos, playing with gusto. Davis takes secondary billing, but still has plenty of good licks, and all the others have their turns at this bluesy gem. Next is a tune that Davis first recorded with Sonny Rollins, “Airegan”, and it features Coltrane leading off with some nice riffs, followed by Davis and the others joining in for a highly spirited feel.

The last cut, which is also the longest, is actually two tunes – “Tuneup/When Lights Are Low” – the first part an uptempo piece that is also a reprise from the earlier quartet days. It features some hot play by Davis, answered fully by Trane, who seems especially high-spirited. The second part continues in the same vein, with all members of the group getting plenty of time to show their stuff, but in a piece that has a more relaxing feel.

This album, in addition to being good jazz, is of historical importance as a snapshot of jazz greats in their element.

1. My Funny Valentine 6:04
2. Blues by Five 10:23
3. Airegin 4:26
4. Tune Up/When the Lights Are Low 13:11

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