Quincy Jones famously said that if any one album can explain jazz, it’s the four-times platinum Kind of Blue, the most continually popular jazz recording from 1959, a year that produced several continually popular jazz recordings. So if you’re going to own only one jazz album or you’re just starting your collection Kind of Blue is defintitely the disc to get.
True, the album suffered much trauma upon its inital entry into the digital age. It wasn’t until the wonderful 1992 remaster that Columbia managed to put all the tracks both in the right order and at the right tempos on one disc. It’s that version that you see in every Borders bookstore and every bachelor’s apartment.
Unfortunately for collectors of rare artifacts, Kind of Blue was recorded in a pair of unusually blessed sessions. Miles’ sextet, featuring superstars John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans (on all but one song), as well as regular Miles companions Wynton Kelly (sitting in for Evans), Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, never put together another set, so the five songs of the regularly released album are rare enough. Amazingly though, only one complete alternative version (of “Freddie Freeloader”) exists from the dates. The group, experimenting with modal improvisation and playing from little more than sketches of chord changes that Miles wrote up on the spot, nailed almost every take, recording most of the tracks on essentially the first try. So, there’s not much of real value that can be added to a special edition like this.
Some of the included studio outtakes are interesting, but only if you’re curious about the details of the recording sessions and the sound of Miles’ gravelly voice. (Which I definitely am, by the way.) The second disc contains some extant numbers from a later recording of the group, but nothing that you can’t easily find elsewhere. The final track is a brisk live take on “So What,” which in the current context might be considered something of lost treasure, but it wasn’t Miles’ best night, and it’s clear why it hasn’t been released before.
If you’re already obsessive about Miles, you probably already have everything here because you bought the $100 deluxe box set last year. If you’re not, then you’ll be just as happy to skip the superfluous extras and grab the standard single-disc edition from your local record store for about eight bucks. It’s worth every penny.