THE BLOG
07/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Thank God It's Thursday : Miles Davis, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Charles Mingus, Tito Puente and Babatunde Olatunji

Miles Davis
Kind Of Blue / Legacy Edition
Miles Davis
Sketches Of Spain / Legacy Edition
The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Time Out / Legacy Edition
Charles Minugus
Mingus Ah Um / Legacy Edition
Tito Puente
Dance Mania / Legacy Edition
Babatunde Olatunji
Drums Of Passion / Legacy Edition

Back when gas was twenty-five cents, Hawaii and Alaska became states, and Fidel Castro came to power, would-be classic records such as Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue and Sketches Of Spain, Dave Brubeck's Time Out, and Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um hit the marketplace as jazz's reinvention experienced some of its greatest popularity in the U.S. as well as internationally. As Americans became globetrotters (remember Frank Sinatra's Come Fly With Me album cover?), foreign musics simultaneously began infiltrating the U.S.--like the latin dance of Tito Puente or the "exotic" sounds of Nigerian-born Babatunde Olatunji and his Drums Of Passion. In fact, Puente's album, Dance Mania, and its successor, Dance Mania, Vol. 2, are credited with educating the world on Latin America's more spicy, rhythmic grooves.

Mostly celebrating jazz's 1959 frontier, the above-mentioned six classic albums have been re-imagined as Legacy Editions, expanding each of the originals by adding an extra disc. The exception is Time Out whose tracks now stretch across an extra CD that features Brubeck's famed Quartet (DB on piano, Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums) playing some previously unreleased live material at Newport. It also carries a DVD with an interactive piano lesson plus an interview with the jazz icon on the creation of his structurally-complex work. This was the first million-selling jazz album, and it was buoyed up the charts by the hit "Take Five" (with its challenging 5/4 tempo) plus its lovely, progressive "Blue Rondo à la Turk."

Though this record has become a bit of a cliché over the years (due to its über-classic status), its re-examination, through this piece, is very much worth the effort, and its Newport tracks are a revelation in context. Eugene Wright's replacing transitional player Norman Bates on bass helped galvanize the sound of Brubeck's ensemble, the band members tightly sync'd despite modern jazz's move to a looser, freer form. In a way, the group's heavier handed beat meister, Springfield, MA's Joe Morello, inadvertently initiated the events that steered the quartet to its eventual musical direction--the result of his legendary blowout with Desmond, his style contrasting greatly with the more Penthouse martini-esque parts that the sax player contributed prior to Time Out. Peacemaker Brubeck stepped in and re-engineered the group's basics, creating the innovative compromise presented here. Through this album, the group converted many holdouts previously uncomfortable with the jazz format, making its success very important in the genre's becoming accepted more fully by the masses.

For Kind Of Blue (its Legacy Edition released back in January), Miles Davis and Bill Evans--both followers of pianist George Russell's modal brand of jazz--attempted a more inspired approach by loosely charting the songs, then freshly introducing them to the players on the recording dates. The resulting improvisational works are considered the most influential of their era, their assembly the best selling jazz album of all time. Featuring John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley along with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb, this Legacy Edition includes the original album plus alternate takes (with "So What" in its first official, over-seventeen minute version), studio dialog that gives you a bird's ear view of the sessions' genius, and tracks recorded the previous year that include "Stella By Starlight," "On Green Dolphin Street," and Cole Porter's "Love For Sale."

Following ...Blue and its enormous success, Davis teamed with arranger Gil Evans for his Sketches Of Spain that orchestrated the same approach taken on the previous album. Spain's second disc's 1961 Carnegie Hall performances highlight the expanded version, and beyond Miles' performances, the project is loved mostly for Gil Evans' elegant film noir-ish vision of Spain--one that fans first glimpsed in "Maids Of Cadiz" (also included for historical perspective) from the album Miles Ahead on which the composer/arranger first approached a song of Spanish origin. The album, comprising mostly of Evans compositions (plus Manuel de Falla's "Will O' The Wisp" and Joaquín Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," the album's magnum opus), also spotlighted the talents of musicians Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, Elvin Jones, and some of the top studio players of the time.

The jazz-gospel-blues of Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um was so unique that in order to celebrate its fusion properly, the Legacy Edition includes its followup, the complete Mingus Dynasty, with bonus tracks and alternates relative to both releases--all of that music having been recorded at the same 1959 sessions. The tracks include his trademark "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" (written for Lester Young) along with his tribute to Duke Ellington, "Open Letter To Duke," and "Jelly Roll" for Jelly Roll Morton. Mingus Ah Um is a terrific study of the free jazz movement that was heating up the clubs, though the bassist apparently had a different viewpoint. It's said that Mingus dissed Ornette Coleman's approach to music due to its less predictable structure. (Mingus: "If the free-form guys could play the same thing twice, then I would say they were playing something."); on the other hand, listening to the frequent, roaming brilliance of pianist Horace Parlan, drummer Dannie Richmond, and the buzzy-bassist himself, you realize Mingus' style was a grand merger of traditional with the tangential. It's interesting to listen to this album's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and then compare it to Joni Mitchell's version on her jazzy collaboration with the giant, Mingus. The purist will choose the Mingus Ah Um version every time. However, one might consider that Mitchell's version probably is closer to what its composer envisioned it to be in his final years.

This series is explored further by a couple more outside the box inclusions. The King of Mambo, Tito Puente, died a few years back at the age of 77, but he left behind his own outstanding mark on latin jazz, especially through albums such as Dance Mania. Presented with Dance Mania, Vol. 2 and many tracks recorded around the same period, this expanded version collects some of El Rey's most cherished recordings such as "El Cayuco" and "Saca Tu Mujer." Finally, Babatunde Olatunji is given some luv with a double disc exploration of his mighty Drums Of Passion. You may remember its most popular track, "Akiwowo (Chant To The Trainman)," being used as a commercial cutaway on live variety shows, or as background music to your favorite afternoon children's series. The music was melodic and primal, and apparently was influential for artists such as Mickey Hart, Joan Baez, Carlos Santana, and John Coltrane, who later wrote and recorded the track "Tunji" in his honor.

All of these Legacy Editions have smart, informative liner notes by super-jazzbos Michael Cuscuna, Gunther Schuller, Richard Seidel, Francis Davis, Ted Gioia and others, and the remastering treats the albums warmly, returning their sonics closer to those of their initial releases. Also, digital booklets are supplied in addition to extremely annotated, photo-filled print excursions. And sure, a couple of these records have been re-released at least twice now. But this latest revisit--one that adds relative tracks and whole, additional albums in order to tell a bigger story--is a clever, thorough way to appreciate a project's broader history and impact, and this batch hopefully will serve as models for even more excellent jazz expansions to come.

Note: "To celebrate this release, Legacy is producing a free, multi-episode podcast featuring jazz luminaries as well as musicians who were influenced by these albums. The series will be available via iTunes as well at http://podcasts.legacyrecordings.com/"