JazzTimes - 6/03, pp.114-5
"...Nobody who's deep into modern jazz will be able to resist these sets for very long..."
Personnel: Miles Davis (trumpet); Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone); Wynton Kelly (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Jimmy Cobb (drums).
Recorded live at the Blackhawk, San Francisco, California on April 21 & 22, 1961. Includes liner notes by Ralph J. Gleason.
VOL. I: Miles Davis' first live presentation of his working band took place at the noted San Francisco nightclub, the ambience of which may best be summed up by the proud words of its owner, Guido Caccienti: "I've worked and slaved for years to keep this place a sewer."
"Walkin'" is taken at the kind of jaunty tempo that distinguished the Wynton Kelly-Paul Chambers-Jimmy Cobb rhythm axis. Paul Chambers' buoyant, effortless beat, his sure sense of harmony and swing, and his resounding brand of melodic bass (dig his little bowed break at the conclusion of "Walkin'") are the glue which hold these performances together. On "Walkin'" he and Jimmy Cobb lock up the groove as if swinging were the same as breathing, allowing Kelly to engage the trumpeter in a continual dialogue, feinting counterpoint and feeding him his favorite chords, then dropping away to allow Miles to stroll for a taste.
Kelly's joy is infectious on the band's old warhorse "Bye Bye Blackbird" and the easy-going ballad "All Of You," where he seems to particularly inspire a laid back bluesy Hank Mobley tenor solo. Mobley, never a Davis favorite, is not the fiery foil he relished, but his buttery tone and imperturbable lyric charm suit the slightly conservative tone of these performances. But in a long reading of "No Blues," Miles pointedly has Wynton Kelly testify briefly in response to his own, almost down home reading of a blues, before engaging Cobb in some talking rhythm exchanges. However, Kelly is capable of a gorgeous romantic approach, as in the lush chording which enlivens the closing "Love I've Found You."
VOL. II: Much of the greatest live jazz has been recorded in homey dens of iniquity such as San Francsico's own Blackhawk, and from the opening blast of Monk's classic "Well You Needn't," through the dynamic overdrive of "Oleo," it's clear that the band and this Saturday night crowd are locked into the kind of positive, self-generating vibe that encourages vivid, risky improvisations.
Prior to the departure of the classic Kelly-Chambers-Cobb rhythm section (the KIND OF BLUE team) in 1963, Miles was in the midst of his so-called show tune period, which consisted of jazz classics and pop tunes taken at brisk, swinging tempos, suffused in the same funky hard bop bluesiness of Mingus, Cannonball and Blakey's Messengers. The harmonic sophistication of his collaborations with Gil Evans notwithstanding, the more modern advances of Coltrane, Coleman and Taylor would have to wait for the arrival of the Hancock-Carter-Williams rhythm axis.
SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE BLACKHAWK features some of this band's most engaging repertoire (plus some solos edited out of the original release). After the coy, teasing lyricism of "Fran Dance," the band worked itself into a fine lather, and Miles really stretches out over the tight, passionate groove on "So What." Cobb's brushes, Chambers' translucent bass lines and Kelly's funky understatement give "Oleo" its epic power, and "If I Were A Bell" its charm. Miles' rocking "Neo" moves confidently from a mannered soul waltz through a chanting minor blowing section which anticipates Coltrane's Spanish tinge on "Ole," inspiring Mobley's most yearning, hazardous solo, bold orchestral flourishes from Kelly, and a pair of magnificent Davis arias, full of bent notes and crying smears.