Miles Davis – Miles Davis (Cookin’ and Relaxin’)

More Miles Davis

More Recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

To the Jazz Fans of the World, we here present one of the best sounding jazz recordings we have ever had the privilege to place on a turntable. I cannot ever recall hearing a better sounding Rudy Van Gelder recording, and I have a theory as to why this tape is as good as it is: it’s MONO.

WAY off the charts. Demo Disc Quality Sound of the Highest Order on the best tracks. The extension high and low sets these sides apart. The presence of the instruments and the space around them just cannot be beaten.

It also sounds like it’s recorded completely LIVE in the studio, direct to one track you might say. As good a recording as Kind of Blue is, I think the best parts of this album are more immediate and more real than anything on KOB.

Talk About Timbre

Man, when you play a Hot Stamper copy of an amazing recording such as this, the timbre of the instruments is so spot-on it makes all the hard work and money you’ve put into your stereo more than pay off. To paraphrase The Hollies, you get paid back with interest. If you hear anything funny in the mids and highs of this record, don’t blame the record.

This is the kind of record that shows up audiophile BS equipment for what it is: Audiophile BS. If you are checking for richness, Tubey magic and freedom from artificiality, I can’t think of a better test disc. It has loads of the first two and none of the last.

Better than the Originals?

The record combines two Miles Davis albums recorded in 1956: Cookin’ and Relaxin’. The ’70s remastering here by Rudy Van Gelder is excellent. Since RVG probably would have mastered these tapes himself for the original pressings, I’m going to guess that this album sounds better than any original, for two reasons.

One, modern cutting equipment did not exist in 1956. As good as the best tube cutting equipment may have been, not many records from the era do not suffer from bloated bass and a lack of extension on the top end. Starting in the ’70s record mastering equipment got a whole lot better. Most of the best sounding pressings in our Top 100 for example were cut on these modern cutters. The sound is dynamic with very low distortion, with higher highs and lower lows, as well as transparency and openness far beyond anything that had come before.

Don’t get us wrong, we love that classic tube-mastered sound — warmer, smoother, and sweeter than the pressings that would come later, with wonderful breath of life. But, sometime, like all colorations it comes at a price. That’s not what’s on the tape. What’s on the tape is what you hear on this amazing reissue, on the best of the four sides anyway.

Two, the vinyl used to press the original records was not as good back in 1956. Bad vinyl is not only noisier, it often imparts a gritty quality to the sound. Sometimes it’s just dull. On an issue that’s no doubt closer to home, could it be that the reason almost all the heavy vinyl pressings coming out of RTI are so veiled and lifeless is that their vinyl formulation is not up to the job? It would certainly be interesting to test the hypothesis. But how to explain the bad sound of Sundazed and other labels that are not pressed at RTI?

Four Exceptionally Good Sounding Sides

What excellent sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1956
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of this stellar jazz combo having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we describe above, and for that you will need to take this copy of the record home and throw it on your table.

The Giants

Bass – Paul Chambers 
Drums – “Philly” Joe Jones 
Piano – Red Garland
Tenor Saxophone – John Coltrane


Side One

My Funny Valentine 
Blues By Five

Side Two

Tune Up (When Lights Are Low)

Side Three

If I Were A Bell 
You’re My Everything 
I Could Write A Book

Side Four

I Could Happen To You 
Woody’n You

Allmusic 4 1/2 Star Review

Cookin’ is the first of four albums derived from the Miles Davis Quintet’s fabled extended recording session on October 26, 1956; the concept being that the band would document its vast live-performance catalog in a studio environment, rather than preparing all new tracks for its upcoming long-player. The bounty of material in the band’s live sets — as well as the overwhelming conviction in the quintet’s studio sides — would produce the lion’s share of the Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’ albums.

As these recordings demonstrate, there is an undeniable telepathic cohesion that allows this band — consisting of Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums) — to work so efficiently both on the stage and the studio. This same unifying force is also undoubtedly responsible for the extrasensory dimensions scattered throughout these recordings. The immediate yet somewhat understated ability of each musician to react with ingenuity and precision is expressed in the consistency and singularity of each solo as it is maintained from one musician to the next without the slightest deviation.

“Blues by Five” reveals the exceptional symmetry between Davis and Coltrane that allows them to complete each other’s thoughts musically. Cookin’ features the pairing of “Tune Up/When Lights Are Low” which is, without a doubt, a highlight not only of this mammoth session, but also the entire tenure of Miles Davis’ mid-’50s quintet. All the elements converge upon this fundamentally swinging medley. Davis’ pure-toned solos and the conversational banter that occurs with Coltrane, and later Garland during “When the Lights Are Low,” resound as some of these musicians’ finest moments.

Relaxin’ features the Miles Davis Quintet in a pair of legendary recording dates — from May and October of 1956 — which would generate enough music to produce four separate long-players: Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’. Each of these is considered not only to be among the pinnacle of Davis’ work, but of the entire bop subgenre as well.

As with the other titles, Relaxin’ contains a variety of material which the band had concurrently been performing in their concert appearances. In a brilliant stroke of time conservation, the scheme was hatched for the quintet — who includes: Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Philly Joe Jones (drums), and Red Garland (piano) — to perform the equivalent of their live repertoire in the studio for eventual release.

The results are consistently superior both in terms of song selection as well as performance. The solid nature of the unit as a singular musical force is immediately apparent. “If I Were a Bell” — from the play Guys and Dolls — includes some remarkable soloing via Coltrane and Garland. Davis’ solos are additionally impressive, as they’re derived from the same four-note motive as the melody. Hearing the many variations that he comes up with throughout the song conveys how intrigued Davis must have been by the tune, as it stayed in his performance repertoire for decades.

Tracks such as “You’re My Everything” and “Oleo” highlight the synchronic nature of Davis and Coltrane as they carry each other’s melodies while trading off solos. The steady syncopation of Philly Joe Jones keeps the rhythms tight and the delicate interplay all the more conspicuous. Relaxin’ offers something for every degree of jazz enthusiast. Likewise, the quintet’s recordings provide a tremendous introduction for the curious jazz consumer.