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Positive Feedback ISSUE 11
january/february 2004


Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2019
by Dave Glackin


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For many music lovers, Miles Davis and John Coltrane represent the epitome of jazz. And among the legions of Davis and Coltrane fans, for many the definitive period in history spanned the mid fifties through the early sixties. While Davis and Trane appeared with various accompanists during that period, the pairing of this duo with Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums comprised a magical group that really clicked. Steamin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet is one in a series of four famous releases that were recorded in 1956. Steamin’, Cookin’, Workin’, and Relaxin’ were all recorded in glorious mono by Rudy Van Gelder, probably the most highly revered jazz recording engineer of the era.

This Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs SACD was mastered by Shawn Britton on MoFi’s GAIN 2 System, and released as a dual-layer disc. My reference for the sound quality is the playback that I heard at David Robinson’s house with his Ed Meitner SACD gear (my own SACD playback hardware is now hopelessly behind the curve ... for the moment). The sense of mastertape-like sound quality that I heard from this disc was startling. SACDs vary in sound quality, as a function of the technique and care that was used in their mastering, but in my opinion this release is right up there among the very best, and shows what the medium is capable of. You should have no quibbles about the sound quality of this disc.

Yes, the recording is in mono. But if you only listen to stereo recordings, you don’t know what you’re missing. My favorite jazz record is mono. Many recordings that were originally done in mono sound better when back in mono. And many sound like "fat mono," with the players filling a discernible chunk of space between your speakers, sounding very real within that space. So don’t be scared by mono. With a good mono recording of good music, you will soon forget about the mono and concentrate on the music. And with a great mono recording of great music, such as this, you won’t care about the mono from the very first note.

The music is a mix of ballads, mid-tempo numbers, and angular, bebop-style pieces. The classic Miles Harmon-muted trumpet is present in all its glory, and its wistful emotion comes across in spades on the slower numbers. Coltrane’s signature style shines through, in 1956 still rising on a trajectory that in my opinion culminated in 1959-60 with a number of startling albums including, of course, Kind of Blue. Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones really get to strut their stuff on Steamin’ on the up-tempo number "Salt Peanuts," and Coltrane sounds like he’s in his element.

This is one outstanding recording, featuring my favorite jazz trumpeter and my favorite jazz artist (Coltrane). My only beef is that there are only six cuts. If you any interest whatsoever in jazz, I recommend that you buy this recording. It may spark a much more serious interest in jazz. If you have an abiding interest in jazz, you’ll want to listen to this MoFi release as soon as you can.

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Enjoyment 9/10

Sound Quality 10/10