Down Beat - p.684.5 stars out of 5
-- "Davis toys with dynamics on 'Autumn Leaves,' prowling low, then striking a sharp ascending slash or a sustained tremolo."
Personnel: Miles Davis (trumpet); Herbie Hancock (piano); Tony Williams (drums).
Recording information: Monterey Jazz Festival (09/20/1963).
Photographer: Ray Avery.
When John Coltrane split with Miles Davis in 1960, the trumpeter went through many different personnel combinations. Those changes included using saxophonists Sam Rivers or George Coleman before settling on Wayne Shorter, and discovering Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams to form what was one of the greatest of all modern mainstream jazz quintets. Two months after the Antibes Jazz Festival LP Miles Davis in Europe, this concert was documented at the Monterey Jazz Festival in the early fall of 1963, and it is a missing link between the struggles Davis encountered and the ultimate zenith of his last great acoustic combos. While he and Coleman are not always in sync, the rhythm section is on fire, led by a rock-solid Carter; a fertile-minded Hancock; and Williams, who was amazing even though he was only 17 years old at this juncture. The repertoire is stock and standard Miles, the tunes stretched out with witty and powerful solos, yet there is a sense of devil-may-care mischievous bravado that keeps the proceedings interesting and compelling. The preservation of the analog sound quality on reel-to-reel tapes after all these years is quite good, and though Coleman's solos come in a bit thin when a microphone is turned on late, it's hardly noticeable. The saxophonist himself is lively, inspired, and full-throated on his solos, a tribute to the rich, perfectly balanced voicings he has held fast to all of his career. Hancock is a case study in inventiveness, as he's always reaching for a higher plateau with every remarkable handful of measures. Davis walks on the stage and immediately jumps into wholly improvising off the theme to "Autumn Leaves" without his legendary modal intro. The bandmembers are unrestricted, free, and loose without thinking or charting a course -- they just do it with no messing around. A very fast "So What" is triple-timed from the original with Carter laying out the melody, but they don't sound like they are rushing, primarily due to Williams starting on brushes, then switching to sticks without dropping a beat, and the fluid dynamics of the band become more evident. Hancock shines on the ballad "Stella by Starlight" as everyone solos over nearly 15 minutes, then they charge hard again on the quintessential bop vehicle "Walkin'," a typical piece for Davis and his fans, but worth hearing for the variations and solos. Collectors and completists will want this issue, and as a bridge between the short-lived band with Rivers, the groups with Victor Feldman that produced Seven Steps to Heaven, and the legendary mid-'60s quintet, it provides an important primer toward what took the music of Davis to an even higher level. It's easily recommended even for novices, a very good representation of Miles Davis at the forefront of mainstream modern jazz. ~ Michael G. Nastos