There are magic moments in jazz that are so good they can give you the chills. You can certainly say that of the classic Miles Davis small groups in the mid-to-late '50s with John Coltrane. There was a progression to the group of course, from superlative bop and onto the modality of the last phase and Kind of Blue
. Appearing live however, Miles' band in the later phase mixed the two styles as a matter of course.
By 1960 Trane had left the band briefly to play with Monk, was securely back in the fold but he had by then made up his mind to leave Davis and form his own group. The spring tour of Europe was made reluctantly by Trane. He already had recorded and released quite a few albums under his own name, but the Atlantic association and the release of Giant Steps put his solo career on firm footing. He was eager to continue to grow as a bandleader. Nonetheless he agreed to the tour. It was a lengthy and somewhat grueling series of gigs all across Europe. The regular band was put through a hectic pace of concerts, most of which fortunately were recorded and broadcast over local radio, a few were recorded privately. Nonetheless a substantial documentation of the tour remains.
Some of the concerts have been issued over the years. Now we have nearly all of it together in a nice four-CD set All of You: The Last Tour 1960 (MCPS). It's Miles, of course, Trane, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums. The recorded quality is generally excellent, though one date under-miked Kelly and a private recording also has less sterling qualities. But what counts is the music.
The band plays consistently cuts from Kind of Blue ("So What," "All Blues," etc.) along with "Walkin'" but they also at times turn to other chestnuts from earlier days, "Round Midnight," "If I Were A Bell," and "All of You."
The audiences generally did not know the Kind of Blue music and Trane's new explorations so sometimes they did not get it. But the music is excellent in the most consistent way in spite of that and a certain tension within the band because it was clear that this was Trane's last go round as a member of the group.
Miles turns in some breathtaking solos, the band is in excellent form for the most part, but it is John Coltrane on these sets that most consistently astounds. He takes long solos often, experimenting with the ultra-sheets of sound that he takes to the limits here. Then too he repeats motives at times, works on harmonics and generally uses his solo time to hammer out ideas that ultimately blossomed forth in his later style(s). There are some incredible moments, some torrents of notes now and then that have overwhelming power. But at all times what he is doing is foundational. A transition period for him? In a way, yes (after all, "So What" turns to "Impressions" in his own band). In other ways this is Trane that you don't hear in quite the same way before or after. He is inspired.
Needless to say, this is an essential set. You may already have some of it. But to hear the concerts collected and sequenced chronologically is a revelation.