Miles Davis was one of the Newport Jazz festival’s favourite guests over the years, and Newport was where, in 1955, he kickstarted a faltering, heroin-delayed career with a subtly paced reading of Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight. The performance put him on the road to stardom. This four-CD box features 20 years of Davis’s Newport gigs, from that 1955 epiphany alongside Monk himself (a gig introduced by none other than Duke Ellington), through the freebop of the great 1950s and 60s quintets, into sets from 73 and 75, and winding up with a gritty electric group including Keith Jarrett on keys and Davis on cat-wailing wah-wah trumpet in 1971. Except on Round Midnight, Davis sounds unsettled in 1955. By 1958, however, he was a coolly swinging new man, with a blistering John Coltrane on tenor and a delicate Bill Evans on piano (the Kind of Blue band in waiting). And in the 60s, he was an uninhibited sonic flamethrower in Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter’s company. There are four hours of previously unreleased music here, and the production and liner notes are typically classy.
John Fordham is the Guardian's main jazz critic. He has written several books on the subject, reported on it for publications including Time Out, Sounds, Wire and Word, and contributed to documentaries for radio and TV. He is a former editor of Time Out, City Limits and Jazz UK, and regularly contributes to BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3