My thoughts on the newest format war have been registered in elsewhere. After the AES Seminar in May I hunkered down with some DVDs and SACDs (I’ve been collecting the latter for over a year) and started to listen critically to both formats. Multi-channel SACD has only been demonstrated at shows, and players and discs do not yet exist for consumers, but will soon, to the dismay of those who bought 2-channel players (myself included).
DVD-Audio, meanwhile, is trying to be all things for all channels (well, 5 of them at least), and some old 70s masters are being remixed to sound fresher for the new millennium. I’m not sure this is a good thing, but maybe it’s Quad all over again…with a subwoofer.
Out of the blue (maybe I responded to an E-mail) I received 9 DVD-Audio discs from a company called Silverline. These all offer 6-channel 96/24 audio playable on DVD-Audio machines only, plus Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 that plays on all DVD players.
I also ordered from Amazon.com a number of titles from Warner, both classical and pop, including three Beethoven symphonies and the Mahler 2nd, and Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. These, plus some discs provided by Pioneer with the DV-38A player provided initial software to evaluate early players and music releases.
SACD releases have been coming from Sweden’s Opus 3 label, and I’ve bought some classic discs from Sony, mostly Columbia reissues of jazz and classical recordings. Accumulated by now are Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue and Sketches Of Spain, and Duke Ellington’s Blues In Orbit (released by Mobile Fidelity on the eve of their demise), a new recording by the McCoy Tyner Quartet, New York Reunion, and Brahms’ 4th Symphony with Bruno Walter.
So we have a fairly eclectic selection augmented by the decidedly diverse Silverline offerings. I was able to begin evaluating these discs starting with the Pioneer DV-38A DVD-Audio player, and continuing with the Pioneer Elite DV-AX10 (the only current player that reproduces both formats), and the Panasonic DVD-RP91, which is a budget DVD-Audio player at $899CA retail.
Silverline: Silver Lining?
This company has released compilation discs in a series called Inside The Music under the titles, Classic Country (Hello Walls), Classic Crooners (Red Roses For A Blue Lady), Classic Jazz (Mercy, Mercy, Mercy), Classic Rock (Bad To The Bone), New Age (whatever), Surf’s Up (Pipeline), and Women On Top (Walking On Sunshine, Bette Davis Eyes). Talk about trying to grab us by the beerbellies (or the whatevers) and pull us into the experience! We all need surround sound DVD-Audio in our RVs and trailers: 5.1 in a Winnebago; 7.1 in an Airstream.
It appears that they have licensed multitrack masters and remixed them for the new format, and the clear intention is to appeal to all DVD player owners, which is a good thing, and perhaps necessary for any economic success with the new format: familiar music formats, familiar music. Does familiarity breed contempt?
And, if for the most part, these DVD releases are mostly oldies, the list of SACD titles is dominated by classics, mostly Columbia titles, classic recordings and classical recordings, exemplified by Kind Of Blue and Bruno Walter’s Brahms’ 4th, respectively. In other words, it’s mostly old music in new formats.
Let’s get the Silverline losers out of the way first. Even if you’re a diehard surfer (as we all know many Canadians are), you’ll think Surf’s Up is a classic…a classic ripoff. Even the Ventures‘ Pipeline sounded better on AM radio, at least in memory, and the reproduction quality of songs like Surf City or The Little Old Lady From Pasadena is atrocious, not ’stunning six-channel `surround sound’ audio” and “more than twice the quality of today’s CD…” These are mostly mono masters mixed originally with maximum midrange in mind, and adding echo in three more channels doesn’t do them any good.
Classic Crooners in most cases gives distinctly un-classic crooning, with a few exceptions, like Peggy Lee’s live Fever (which even Elvis imitated) and Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes, both of which sound pretty good for their age. But Danke Schoen by Wayne Newton? I’ve always called the song “Donkey Shit by Wayne Neuter”, and longed to introduce it that way on the radio, but then, these things tend to run through my head…”and now with sports, here’s Dick Head!” Sorry. But that’s not why I’m no longer in radio.
And Red Roses For A Blue Lady? I’m afraid that, with the noted exceptions, these are just about all the songs I never wanted to hear again, especially with added echo and syntheszized stereo. Classic Crooners is mostly an oxymoron.
Classic Country may be more accurately titled, with George Jones‘ She Thinks I Still Care, Merle Haggard’s Movin’ On, and Faron Young’s Hello Walls, but I can think of more recent classics that would sound better, and show off DVD- Audio again. Willie Nelson’s version of Crazy is an excellent exception to the generally mediocre sound here, with tasteful strings at back in a good Nashville studio recording. But given other old stuff here, like Hello Walls, I’m surprised they didn’t use Patsy Cline’s recording of Crazy, which is a true classic.
And do we really want to listen to I’m Not Lisa or Why Have You Left The One You Left Me For again? This disc’s aimed straight at the trailer and truck crowd, and should be available in 8-track, too. The sound and limited surround (mostly layers of “too much echo, echo, echo, turn it off, off, off”, to quote Stan Freburg) are not all that bad, given much of the source material.
Women On Top (cute title) features remixes of female hits that, for the most part make them sound like they’re yelling even louder, for example, Pat Benatar’s We Belong Together, Katarina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine, or Wilson Phillips’ Hold On. Then there’s Blondie’s little wee voice in Heart Of Glass. It could be argued that none of this stuff, like much of what we’ve already discussed, is even high fidelity, let alone DVD-quality audio. The one exception here is Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes, which stands out for its fidelity, good lyrics, tasteful arrangement that builds around you in surround, and a truly outstanding vocal performance. The rest of this DVD-A is low-fi crap.
Much of the same could be said for Classic Rock, another oxymoronic title for a disc with few classics on it. Only Bad To The Bone, Rebel Yell, and Green-Eyed Lady might qualify, but opinions may vary on tunes like John Waite’s Change, or the J. Geils Band’s Centrefold. I guess I’ll let the 70s crowd decide, but you won’t get a lot of good sound here, either. Only Green-Eyed Lady is an interesting mix with percussion at rear. Discs like these sort of remind me of buying rock LPs for one song way back then and getting just that…it’s deja vu all over again.
Without being well versed in some of the other genres covered in this Silverline collection, I think similar comments could be made about the New Age and New Wave collections, though the sound on the former is definitely better and more tastefully mixed for surround than the music already reviewed. New Age also has system-show-off synthesized deep bass, as well, and will appeal to those who like a few crickets and so on with their music. A lot of the instrumental leads are played on guitar, and, in general, I would not characterize most of this music as “New Age”, but rather, what is called these days “Smooth Jazz”, airy instrumentals with good rhythmic flow rather than dreamy meditative music, though there is some of that here, too, for example, Cristofori’s Dream by pianist David Lanz. The Promise, by Vas, features a female vocalist who sounds like Loreena McKennitt gargling with antifreeze…thank God for the Skip button!
New Age is a pleasant enough collection, for the most part, and offers very good sound to demo your DVD-A player, but there’s not much New Age on it. That’s probably a good thing.
Another mis-titled DVD-A in this series is New Wave. Excuse me, but I haven’t heard Blondie, The Knack, or The Tubes on The Edge radio lately, so I guess the programmers of this series of recordings are even more ossified than I. But you may like this average sounding mainstream pop in quite decent surround mixes. I didn’t.
And, finally, Classic Jazz. I used the surround live recording of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy by Cannonball Adderley as a demo piece at the spring AES seminar, because it put the listener in the jazz club quite naturally, and came from a 70s multitrack master of excellent quality. But much of the rest of the disc is questionably classic, for example, the Channel One Suite by Buddy Rich.
Throughout this disc, deep bass seems boosted unnaturally, and the surround mixes are pretty aggressive in rear corner placement of instruments, which I didn’t like. Thank God they can’t do that with the 2-channel recordings of the 50s and 60s, the period of real classic jazz; this stuff is pretty much all from the 70s in the early multitrack era, and tends to the repetitive riffs of Fusion. Even the other live track, Grant Green’s Down Here On The Gound is not the great guitarist at his best. I find this DVD-A a mixed bag, or more appropriately, a bagged mix, with wide variations in musical, sonic, and surround quality. And on the Buddy Rich track, my DVD-AX10 went into Mute mode after about 2 minutes of play, suggesting a disc fault (the visual stills continued). It has never done anything like this with any other CD, SACD, DVD-A, or DVD-V. The next track, 10, Horace Silver’s Django is one of the best on the album, and it played perfectly.
Silverline’s Original DVD-A Recordings
If old music in new technology is not your thing, Silverline has also begun to release new DVD-A recordings, including Aaron Neville’s Devotion, and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. Neville, the most famous of the Neville Brothers, has a wavery tenor that mutates into a faltering falsetto whenever you think he might actually hit a note, and may not be to some tastes, including mine. But if you favour throbbing interpretations of Morning Has Broken and Bridge Over Troubled Water with soulful accompaniment, you might like this disc. The sound quality is very good, and the surround vocal support tastefully mixed. There may be something quite comforting about surround soul. Call it a new approach to virtual reality, even if Neville does frequently sound like somebody stepped on a cat.
More to my liking is the Big Phat Band, the recording a sonic stunner that uses surround very effectively, with support reeds at right rear, and support brass at left rear. The soloists, bass, and percussion are all up front in a wide spread. The sonic texture is a little thin in the midrange, with highs boosted somewhat (too bad the engineer couldn’t keep his hands off the EQ), but is very clean and dynamic overall. And with soloists like clarinetist Eddie Daniels, and the percussion drive of Luis Conte, this band swings, led by Goodwin’s driving sax solos.
As the accompanying onscreen session photos show, lots of microphones were used, and this natural a mix is a surprise, as is a jazz rendering of a Bach 2 Part Invention. No writing credits are provided, but one can assume that Goodwin’s pen is behind all the tunes, as well as the arrangements, and they are, like the Bach, fine inventions, the one standard tune being the opener, Sing, Sang, Sung. I also used this disc for demo at the AES presentation. Though it’s not quite in the same class as the Sheffield Harry James direct-to-disc LPs for outright fidelity (one stereo mike), or the Chesky 96K stereo Jon Faddis big band disc, Remembrances, it’s a great showcase for the new century’s audio technology.
As a digression before turning to other DVD-A releases, I have yet to hear the ultimate use of the medium: 192 kHz stereo. Perhaps the purist approach will resurface after the surround fad wears off, not that I don’t like being “in the middle of the music”, as my quad CBC series of the late 70s was called.
DVD-A From Warner/Universal
After flying into Winnipeg last week on a clear day through scattered cumuli, I’d literally “looked at clouds from both sides now” when I again looked up at the sky from the airport parking lot. Joni Mitchell probably wrote the song, her most recorded tune, on a plane. And her cover of herself (in two senses, musically, of course, but also visually on the albun art) comes on the album Both Sides Now, now reissued in DVD-A. The song, like all the other love songs in this collection, is recorded with lush orchestration, a collaboration betwwen Mitchell, and her ex, bassist Larry Klein. The arrangement of these standards, including also her song, A Case Of You, was “to trace the arc of a modern romantic relationship”, and was Mitchell’s idea. Thus, we have, in order, You’re My Thrill; At Last; Comes Love; You’ve Changed; Answer Me, My Love; A Case Of You (written for Leonard Cohen); Don’t Go To Strangers; Sometimes I’m Happy; Don’t Woory About Me; Stormy Weather; I Wish I Were In Love Again, and Both Sides Now.
Personally, I think it’s more than too much of a good thing, and can’t listen through the album at one sitting, the variations in tempo and mood too few, and the tone too slow and treacly. But the interpretations of her own songs are remarkable, and the collection worth having for them alone. A Case Of You is, in effect, looked at from “both sides now”, here slowed down and examined for its meanings, and intertwined with her languid, searching vocal, is a torchy Branford Marsalis soprano sax riff.
Both Sides Now receives a similar examination over a floating bed of strings, and comes out in a newly confessional way, as Mitchell caresses every lyric. I’m not too fond of the chirpy Marsalis bits here, and the soundtrack-style French Horns, but the singing is very moving, Joni’s best song sung better than any one of the hundreds of others who’ve recorded it ever did, or could. But there’s a certain irony in all this lushness, all this Gordon Jacobs, Percy Faith, and Nelson Riddle-style accompaniment, in that it’s just the way such interpreters as Frank Sinatra, or adventurous fools like William Shatner, have gone at the song. And in the case of both of these Mitchell songs, it is the lyric and the melody which ultimately triumph over the arrangements.
This album is offered in two versions, 5.1 surround (with only ambience in the rears), and straight 2-channel stereo, presumably down-mixed in the player digitally, though it could be a completely separate pair of studio-mixed tracks (rather than a set of digital instructions for the 5.1 channel combination).
And this leads us to a Universal/Warner practice that I find somewhat frustrating: in order to hear surround at all, you have to use a centre channel speaker. Their mixing practice is to completely isolate (or as I think of it, imprison, as in a locked studio vocal booth) the vocalist. I find this unnatural, just as I often find film dialogue imprisoned when people are moving about or on either side of the screen. Most other labels’ DVD-A discs allow sufficient centre in the left and right that you can get away without using the centre channel. But I guess that’s just my pet peeve.
However, those who don’t own DVD-A machines will discover that this disc also plays on DVD-Video machines with a Dolby Digital soundtrack, making for backward compatibility. However, the sound is notably softer and less defined, especially at frequency extremes.
And, one final note about Both Sides Now: as a concept album, its musical interpretation is enhanced by Joni Mitchell’s own paintings, which are quite small in the CD booklet, but look great on a big-screen TV…”I live in a box of paints…”
Many companies releasing DVD-A discs have gone from using standard jewel boxes to a new design, that is more vertical in shape, therefore not fitting CD racks, but allowing bigger booklets. Sadly, they’re just as fragile as Jewel Boxes. The friction-fit clasp is so strong that I broke the front flap trying to open the box; and that was after the fight with the sticky clear plastic cover over the top of the box, claimed to prevent store theft, but I’m sure designed to annoy customers, just like the clasp. I fear that such things as this, and the extra menu systems with DVD-A play, are going to frustrate and anger potential customers, especially those who value CD for its pop-in-and-play convenience. Who the hell needs a box you can hardly get open, and when you do, it breaks!
Among the other DVD-As I ordered from Amazon at excellent prices, were three Beethoven symphonies, and the Mahler 2nd, these seeming to be a good way to assess the potential of the multitrack concert experience. None were live performances, as it turned out, but I’m sure (if or when the classical music business recovers from the gross record-company/booking-agent mismanagement of the last two decades) that live performances will become a staple of the DVD-A/SACD catalogues.
Daniel Barenboim’s approaches to the three most accessible Beethoven symphonies, 6, 7 and 8 are direct and musical, and in these very lucid and well balanced recordings you can hear him conducting with his feet periodically if you have a subwoofer that goes deep enough.
His approach to the Pastorale, and the other symphonies is reminiscent of that of Bruno Walter: well measured tempi, good attention to detail and instrumental balance and clarity, with a lovely even rhythmic feel and a resulting overall romantic sense of the music. In other words, it is the music that speaks, not the conductor. For just these reasons I still treasure Barenboim’s recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas and concerti. I know that when I come back to them, it will be the music that is there, able to be enjoyed effortlessly.
The sound is magnificent, sumptious and full, with a very natural resolution to the strings of the Berliner Staatskapelle, and a nice depth, enhanced by the hall sound from the rear. This is the way orchestral multichannel sound should be done, and if these three symphonies are any indication, this Beethoven cycle will set a sonic standard for years to come, as well as a musical one.
In a short interview in which Barenboim extolls the virtues of the 6-channel high resolution format, it is revealed that the recordings were made in a large studio in Berlin, which the conductor likes because it is neither too reverberant like a church, nor too dry like some concert halls (RTH in Toronto a prime example). I did find the perspective a little close, however, and the strings just a bit shrill on climaxes, though this is more noticeable in the 7th and 8th than in the 6th.
As you listen, you can scroll through period paintings of Vienna, Beethoven’s patrons, and the pastoral life portrayed in the symphony. The disc with the 7th and 8th offers more art, including period sculptures, as well as portraits and landscapes.
These two DVD-As are packaged in standard jewel boxes, but the Mahler 2nd with the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta comes in one of the new types, but experienced now, I managed to avoid breaking its front flap. However, I noticed that the tray card is slightly too big, and is therefore wrinkled inside the clear plastic; I guess the graphics people will have to get used to the new packaging dimensions, which, as with CDs, have to be very precise.
Getting back to the music, this performance features soprano Nancy Gustafson, and contralto Florence Quivar, with the Prague Philharmonic Choir, and the recording was made at the Frederic R. Mann auditorium in Tel Aviv. In general, the sound here is more reverberant than that from Berlin, but it suits the scope of the Mahler, and the hall delay can be nicely heard from the rear.
Mehta’s performance is quite deliberate, and rather slower than I’m used to from, say, Solti or Slatkin, more akin to Bernstein’s Ely Cathedral CBS SQ surround recording, or perhaps Tennstedt’s for EMI (I haven’t had time to revisit these for direct comparison, so memory will have to suffice).
The soloists are very good, though not quite like Forrester and Battle on the Slatkin/St. Louis CD. They’re also a little forward and loud relative to the orchestra compared to the many times I’ve heard this symphony performed in Massey or Roy Thomson Hall (the 2nd was a special favourite of Andrew Davis and other resident and guest conductors of the TSO).
But what distinguishes this recording from others is the magnificent clarity and power in the finale, with a forceful organ pedal underpinning the full bore orchestra and chorus. It never gets muddy or congested, hard or ugly, like many LP and CD performances do. We’re not pushing the limits of the system here, and you can listen as loud as your room and system can stand without feeling uncomfortable. With over 2000 watts available for 5-channel play, and close to 600 for 2-channel, I had no problem reaching dynamic levels that approached those of the concert hall, limited only by the capacity of my listening rooms to absorb the sound pressure.
And it was hard to decide, moving from room to room, whether I preferred the 2-channel (actually 4, with Cantares SSP-1 [Wtr 2000, Vol. 19 #3] matrix enhancement in the rear driven by a Bryston 2B; yes, I lied about the power: it’s actually closer to 800 watts rms total in the 32′ x 12′ space) of the audio listening room, to the full discrete surround of the home theatre space. The front imaging was better on the audio system from the Veritas and ADS 300w system, with greater soundstage precision, but the overall spatial effect of the 4 Newform ribbons was more like what I’ve heard in concert halls. In both cases, there was virtually no dynamic limitation, and the Sunfire and Paradigm subs quite nicely provided clean bass to below 20 Hz.
So I’m coming to the conclusion that the only thing better than 2 high resolution channels is 6 well recorded ones, but I wonder how much of that we’ll really see. That’s the challenge for the next generation of recording engineers. Personally, I think I’m going to stick to 2-channel recording for at least another year or two.
SACD & Two Channels: Sony, No Baloney?
Aside from 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, Kind Of Blue must have been released in more different music formats than any other recording in history. Now, I don’t have an 8-track of it, or even a cassette (though I’m sure one’s available), but as of last Friday, I own this seminal jazz recording in the original LP that got me through my teenage years (it’s noisy, like I was), a second pristine pressing bought at Rose Records in the heyday of the Chicago CES, the first horrible-sounding Columbia CD,
the CBS Master Sound CD with its larger DVD-like packaging, the CD release that super-bitmapped the audio and added the only alternate take, of Flamenco Sketches, and the stereo SACD. And last Friday, just to complete my collection and confirm that my Pioneer Elite DV-AX10 does not play multitrack SACDs and is therefore hopelessly obsolete after I’ve had it a month, Sony Of Canada kindly couriered me the 5.1 channel Kind Of Blue (Maybe they have the 8-track, too).
“That’s curious”, I thought, “Kind Of Blue was recorded on only 3 channels.” Listeners who have wondered about slight instrumental balance differences from one release version to the next can now appreciate that it was the level at which the centre channel was blended with left and right that set the level of bass and trumpet in particular, everything else except drums recorded pretty much at hard left or right.
So I still haven’t heard it in 5.1, but the disc sounds pretty spectacular in stereo, as does the stereo SACD. The various CD versions had never captured all the subtleties, especially in the drums and cymbals, that one could hear on a good LP pressing. I’ll say more about SACD 5.1 next issue, and, in particular why Sony would introduce it in multichannel after selling all those thousands of stereo-only players: I want an explanation, and it better be good!
As a touchstone recording for me, Kind Of Blue should allow a good starting point for assessing the Super Audio Compact Disc format, derived from Sony’s Direct Stream Digital (DSD) mastering and archiving system. They claim it’s a one-bit system, but without getting into techno-jargon, it isn’t quite, but runs at a very high clock speed of 2.8224 MHz, with frequency response capability to about 100 kHz. 15 IPS analog master tapes, however many channels, can exhibit frequency response to about 40 kHz, though much of what’s above 20 kHz is analog tape hiss. However, music happens in time, and the 20-kHz limit of 44.1 digital audio limits the transient accuracy, while the digital filtering scrambles these transients at high frequencies. Because SACD and DVD-A don’t have these shortcomings, recordings transferred from analog to them sound much more natural and open than they ever have on CD. I won’t enter the debate about which sounds better, period, simply because both are so good that there are a million other factors in the making of a recording that are much more critical. So, as I’ve previously noted, DVD-A stereo and SACD stereo should be pretty even in fidelity, all other factors equal. That said, Kind Of Blue sounds as it should, which is like the LP, only better, and without surface noise.
Going from a classic to classical, another SACD of a great performance is Bruno Walter’s Brahms 4th Symphony, with the Columbia Symphony. Now this orchestra was typically made up of New York Philharmonic members for eastern recordings, but this one was made in Los Angeles at American Legion Hall, a venue I’ve never heard of before. This is surprising, especially when hearing the extraordinary sound quality the Columbia engineers achieved here.
The orchestra, according to the liner notes, was “a body of players assembled specifically to realize his recording plans” for his Brahms symphonic cycle. LA may be the best place to do so (outside of London with its five resident orchestras and many smaller ensembles) because of the then-large pool of highly talented and experienced players there involved in radio, TV, and movie music.
In this recording they play beautifully, and very passionately right from the opening. I don’t have the LP recording of this performance, but I can’t imagine it sounding even remotely close in fidelity and dynamics to the SACD. In the early 60s, for whatever reason, the company’s jazz recordings tended to sound quite a bit more open and realistic than their classical ones. These were the early days of stereo, and record companies worried about dual inventory and double pressing costs for mono and stereo more than absolute sound quality.
A case in point are the recordings of Duke Ellington, and later in 1959 he was at work in New York at the famous East 30th Street Studio laying down Blues In Orbit (Kind Of Blue was also recorded there that year, of course). The release of this classic album on SACD (a hybrid disc with a CD layer) was almost the last act of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab before going bankrupt over a year ago (it’s still available because the company’s assets were bought by another distributor).
By the way, one of the curiosities of Sony’s marketing of SACD is that after trumpeting the backward compatibility of dual layer discs, Sony itself has opted to produce very few. None of the releases reviewed above, neither Kind Of Blue nor the other Miles title I have, Sketches Of Spain, are hybrid discs, whereas every title I’ve gotten from other labels (BluesQuest, Chesky, Opus 3) is playable on a CD player. I’ll be talking about those recordings soon.
Getting back to the Duke, and East 30th Street, I was able to compare an 180 gram audiophile pressing from Classic Records, and found them virtually identical in texture and resolution, the SACD just a little more open, and, of course, quieter. The recording itself is just a small part of the fabulous body of work of producer Teo Macero and various anonymous Columbia engineers who worked with many jazz artists. And it’s never sounded better than on SACD.
Kind Of Blue: The Making Of The Miles Davis Masterpiece, by Ashley Kahn. Da Capo Press 2000
The album Kind Of Blue is an icon for many people who otherwise don’t really get into jazz. As I’ve probably said too many times, it got me through my teenage years when rock and roll was often too much, and folk music had yet to enter consciousness. Kind Of Blue was there, it floated in space, it was a wonderful realization of the new stereo width and depth, and it soothed the savage breast.
Thus it fed emotional, intellectual, and technological needs. When I first got this book as a present last year, I thought, “this album wasn’t made, it happened. These guys went into the studio with carte blanche, tabula rasa, whatever, and made spontaneous music in moments of greatness that have never been equaled in jazz or recording history.”
But there’s more to it than that, and Ashley Kahn has carefully researched the climate, conditions, and comings together that made Kind Of Blue happen. It’s useful to read Miles Davis’s autobiography as a prelude, and even better to have digested the excellent biography of Bill Evans1 by English arch-fan Peter Pettinger for context.
But even without these preparations, you can get a very nice feel for the period, 1959, when jazz was happening, and had a large and appreciative audience. The chemistry of Cannonball and Coltrane was exciting to Miles, the sandpaper of improvisation, and the extension of a modal exploration that Miles had in mind. And Bill Evans brought ideas that worked for Davis, and I suppose it really doesn’t matter whose they were. It all happened.
This book painstakingly chronicles when and how it happened, and it’s a really good read for any jazz fan who has been affected by Kind Of Blue. The sheer amount of background detail is amply supplemented by very interesting interviews with those still alive who were there.
1 How My Heart Sings, Yale University Press