Some, if not all, of these performances have been issued on several labels over the years, usually in decidedly lo fi. The provenances of the first 11 tracks are concerts given in Germany, France and Switzerland – (and later in Holland, Belgium and Denmark, Sweden and Italy by a group calling itself “The Birdland All Stars”). They included Lester Young, Miles Davis and the MJQ, supplemented on these selections by European musicians René Urtreger, Pierre Michelot and Christian Garos.
The pairing of Pres and Miles must have seemed like a marriage arranged in heaven. Unfortunately it was not a happy – or long lasting – union. Despite strong rhythmic support (and vocal encouragement) from Urtreger, Michelot and Garros, Lester sounds tired and vapid, barely managing to swing. His best efforts are (appropriately) on Lester Leaps In (with the support of the Kurt Edelhagen’s Big Band), and Indiana, with the Urtreger Trio.
Miles, who had broken up his quintet with Coltrane, joined the tour at the last minute. He is on good form on all the Freiburg concerts, offering distinctive interpretations of Tune Up and What’s New? An unrecognisable (and probably mistitled) Lady Be Good has a lyrical Davis solo, fleet Urtreger fingering and a frail-sounding Lester.
The “bonus” tracks, recorded in passable sound at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival, and introduced by Duke Ellington, have Miles in the company of his peers, Zoot Sims, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, Percy Heath and Connie Kay. Hackensack has Miles delivering a long and thoughtful solo, with Monk’s unique “comping”, and Zoot, as always, totally relaxed and striking sparks with Mulligan, before Monk’s own bright choruses.
The outstanding performance is ’Round Midnight, with Miles on muted trumpet. He reportedly said that after his solo “Everybody went crazy. I got a long standing ovation. All the musicians were treating me like I was a god and all for a solo I had had trouble learning. It was something else. Everybody was looking at me, offering me record deals.” Mulligan is heard to good effect kicking off Now’s The Time, followed by a high-pitched Miles and a softly swinging and inventive Zoot. Monk joins the proceedings with an already recognisable “sound” – soon to become his musical trademark.
Altogether, a somewhat mixed bag, with an audibly failing Pres, and the honours easily going to Miles et al at Newport.
(1-2) How High The Moon; Lester Leaps In; (3-5) Tune Up; What’s New?; Indiana; (6-8) Four; Walkin’; Lady Be Good; (9-10) Four #2; What’s New?; (11) Lady Be Good; [bonus tracks] Introduction by Duke Ellington: Hackensack; ’Round Midnight; Now’s The Time (74.21)
Davis (t); Young (ts) with:
(1-2) MJQ: John Lewis (p); Milt Jackson (vib); Percy Heath (b); Connie Kay (d). On Lester Leaps In, add the Kurt Edelhagen Big Band. Freiburg, Germany, 12 November 1956.
(3-5) Same concert: Rene Urtreger (p); Pierre Michelot (b); Christian Garros (d). Davis out on Indiana; Young out on Tune Up, What’s New?
(6-8) Kongresshaus, Zurich, 19 November, 1956. Same personnel as (2). Young out on Four, Walkin’.
(9-10) Coliseum Theatre, Paris, November-December 1956. Omit Young.
(11) Salle Pleyel, Paris, 2 November 1956.
(12-15) Bonus tracks: Davis (t); Zoot Sims (ts); Gerry Mulligan (bar); Thelonious Monk (p); Percy Heath (b); Connie Kay (d). Newport Jazz Festival, Newport RI, 17 July 1955.