Vinyl Spotlight: Miles Davis In Person at the Blackhawk (Columbia 1669/1670)

March 7, 2017 /

Friday Night (CL 1669):

  • Original 1961 mono pressing
  • “Six-eye” labels

Saturday Night (CL 1670):

  • Second mono pressing circa 1961-1962
  • “Six-eye” labels

Personnel:

  • Miles Davis, trumpet
  • Hank Mobley, tenor saxophone
  • Wynton Kelly, piano
  • Paul Chambers, bass
  • Jimmy Cobb, drums

Recorded April 21-22, 1961 at the Black Hawk, San Francisco, California
Originally released September 1961

My Friday Night copy is considered an original pressing by most collectors but my Saturday Night copy is not due to the “CBS” marking on the labels. This is where I diverge from the record collecting consensus. I would agree that the CBS copy is not a first pressing but I would argue that there’s nothing wrong with referring to it as an “original pressing”. Being as specific as possible seems the honorable thing to do when it comes to selling, but my feeling is that in everyday conversation any copy of an album that would have been released in the era the album was originally released can rightfully be called an original (certainly, “in the era” is open to interpretation). Seeing that my CBS copy of Saturday Night was in all likelihood pressed in either the same year or the year after a first pressing, I don’t hesitate to think of this as an “original pressing”.

Live recording is by and large a more challenging endeavor when compared to the higher degree of control typically obtained in a recording studio. That being said, this Miles Davis album is an exceptional example of a live recording. Every instrument has its own space, even in mono, and the level of detail and accuracy here is a welcome break from the smeared, distorted sound of many live albums. Not only does Jimmy Cobb’s drum kit sound incredible here, his playing has a captivating and energetic sense of forward motion that seems to predict Tony Williams’ inclusion in Davis’ lineup shortly after. These albums also present a rare opportunity to hear how tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, a mainstay of Blue Note records, holds up under the intense scrutiny of the date’s superstar bandleader.

  • rl1856

    This is a great set that has only recently come to the attention of critics and casual observers. True fans knew it for what it was: a portrait of a band in transition. Coltrane, Adderley and Evans had left, and he was searching for a new lineup. Kelly and Chambers were still in place, but Cobb and Mobley were under extended audition. The tunes are standards, to keep things easy for everyone. But the playing is topnotch. And as you point out, the recording is outstanding. On a high resolution system you can hear faint echos of the audience; people talking in hushed tones, a few tinkles of glass, moving of chairs etc. All of the instruments are captured with natural sound and ambiance. Treble is extended with realistic decay from horns and cymbals, bass provides a firm foundation. Recording accuracy is detailed enough to hear the relative position of Miles’ horn vs Mobley’s. Miles is in scorching form, pushing everyone to play at their limits and accelerating tempos. There is plenty of room for improvisation around themes, and everyone takes advantage. But Miles outplays everyone.

  • Richard Capeless V

    You don’t know shit

  • Martin Kelly

    Rich, I think your definition of “original pressing” is reasonable here and fine for this type of discussion, especially since you take the care to distinguish it from “first pressing”. If I were offering your copy of Saturday Night for sale, I’d probably describe the identifying features such as the six-eye labels with CBS overprinting, the matrix numbers (especially whether they ended 1A or not) etc and allow the informed collector to reach their own conclusions.

    As you probably know from reading my blog, I have “original” six-eye stereo pressings of this pair. One of them I have no hesitation in claiming as a “first pressing” but the other doesn’t quite qualify because it has CBS overprinting on one label but not on the other. I jokingly call this a “first and a half pressing”.

    Mono or stereo, this is a great pair of records and I pretty much agree with everything the previous commenter has written with perhaps a little more praise for Mobley and a note that it wasn’t all standards on the dates: we get tracks like Fran-Dance, Neo and So What (which wasn’t yet a standard at the time of this recording). Mobley gets unfair treatment at the hands of reviewers here because was extensively edited out of these two records. I’ve just secured a copy of the Mosaic Records six LP complete Blackhawk box set so I’ll soon be able to appreciate the full extent of what it would have been like to be there and hear all the sets in person and unedited from these two days.

    • Hi Martin, thanks for chiming in. FWIW, if I were selling a CBS six-eye, I would never use the word “original” just to steer clear of criticism from those who equate the terms “first pressing” and the former.

      I have never heard the unabridged versions of these albums (This is a full plate of music as it is!) but maybe someday I will have the stomach for it. Related, I recently starting finally tapping into the complete Night at the Village Vanguard (Rollins) and it’s been a treat (sorry for all the food puns).