On the assumption that 'more is better,' the Complete In A Silent Way Sessions were awaited with as much hushed anticipation as must have preceded the opening of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the event, the experience is almost as enigmatic and troubling. To stumble over a conclusion first, hearing the raw material in its entirety makes one give thanks for the genius of Miles and Teo Macero in seeing what was essential in these extraordinary recordings and what was of less significance. There is nothing here that improves on the released version. Some of the material here, like 'Mademoiselle Mabry', 'Frelon Brun' and 'Dual Mr Anthony Tillman', was used to pad out Filles de Kilimanjaro and Water Babies; some other material found its way on to Circle In The Round. The brooding minor-key 'It's About That Time' was to become known as an anchor for important live sets by the 'lost' Davis band.
The real interest lies in the alternative takes of the title-piece and of 'Shhh/Peaceful'. These are good enough, though one cannot quibble with the decision as to issued takes. The album versions are supplemented on disc three by 'The Ghetto Walk', a genuine rarity and perhaps the only thing on the set that in any way significantly alters one's view of Miles at this period. In many ways it presages the trumpeter's return to the blues towards the end of his life. That was seen as a late, almost deathbed, return to the fold; this amazing track, which features sterling work from McLaughlin and Shorter as well as from the leader, is ample confirmation that Miles was never far from the blues.
Collectors and genuine scholars will find much to ponder here. The rest of us can merely marvel at how many marble chips have to be left on the studio floor to create one David or one Balzac. Miles carved out this material from the most obdurate of material. The albums he created and curated with Macero's help are timeless masterpieces. Insights into their genesis are fascinating but ultimately unnecessary. You'll listen to In A Silent Way a hundred times; you might listen to these tracks thrice, and then only to wonder how the miracle was achieved.
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