Music fans have long known that a certain venue on Lake Geneva is one of the globe’s premier live venues. Long before and after Deep Purple made Montreux famous in their epic “Smoke on the Water” Claude Nobs was booking the most prestigious artists at his concert hall.
Over the years a series of live recordings have emanated from Montreux, and two recent releases are worthy of repeat play.
Solomon Burke’s 2006 recording was made four years before his death. As one of the last in a line of legacy RnB artists, Burke had been embraced by a clutch of premier artists, who wrote songs for his sterling 2002 Don’t Give Up On Me. Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Brian Wilson, Dan Penn, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Bob Dylan were among the songwriters on the Grammy Award winning album, ably produced by Joe Henry. Not surprisingly, the Montreux recording draws on several of those songs, most notably “Diamond In Your Mind” (by Waits). Burke’s recording output stretches across many decades, and so the generous 17 tracks from Montreux include such gems as “Cry To Me” and “Down in the Valley” (both from 1962). Spanning an improbable number of decades, his prowess is undiminished with the more recent “Don’t Give Up On Me” (by Don Penn). His large band is anchored by Sam Mayfield on guitar and Stony Dixon on bass. Burke is a legend, and this live disc only enhances his legacy.
Any survey of jazz stops for a long time at Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. Both have left indelible marks on the oeuvre, and this 1991 recording brings them together for the first time onstage, in a retrospective and tribute to Gil Evans. Davis and Evans collaborated for almost four decades, and generated several landmark albums. Davis was never one to glance very long over his shoulder (indeed he literally never looked over his shoulder at the audience for many years); he was nonetheless induced to partake in this concert.
The setlist evolves almost chronologically, with “Boplicity” from 1949’s The Birth of the Cool. Davis’ tone is lovely, delicately riding above Q’s musical direction. The bulk of the concert revolves around the trio of genius collaborations between Evans and Davis: Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958) and Sketches of Spain (1960). Wallace Roney (trumpet) and Kenny Garrett (sax) are given solo credits, as they are front and center. Behind them is the mammoth 50 piece orchestra, and Q keeps everything moving at exactly the right pace.
“Summertime” swings beautifully. The editing of the camerawork is sharp throughout the concert, giving the viewer glimpses of the expressions and eye contact communication between the performers.
Apparently the whole production was in limbo, as Davis was tardy to rehearsals. Indeed, he had refused often to perform the delicately complex music he and Evans once created. The bonus interviews shed further light. Perhaps as a tribute to Evans (who died a few years before), perhaps for the money or perhaps with the realization of his own mortality (Davis died three months after this performance), Davis agreed to join Q for a monumental performance. This disc is now available for those who wish to experience a slice of jazz history.