Mr. Davis needs no introduction at this point. Winter in Europe 1967 is an album collection of some recordings of live shows performed by the Second Miles Davis Quintet in their European tour. It’s another masterpiece in their discography. The quintet consists of Tony Williams on drums, Ron Carter on bass, Wayne shorter on saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, and Miles on trumpet. Besides the introduction, there are 11 tracks in this album, including various standards – not only one but TWO FOOTPRINTS – and some of Miles’s originals. The quintet sounds absolutely dashing as always on this record. The fact that these tracks are from live performances in front of an audience makes it even more incredible. The real question is what makes the Second Great Miles Davis Quintet so great? The first and most obvious answer would be that all these guys are magnificent virtuosos and true masters of their crafts. But there is more to how this album happened.
In the words of Gary Giddins & Scott DeVeaux, “In 1961, after the success of Kind of Blue, Mr. Davis endured a slump of uncertainty. Coltrane, Adderley, and Evans left to pursue their own careers, and Davis expressed contempt for the avant-garde. He continued to release effective records, … [b]ut his music was caught in a bind, much of it devoted to faster and harder versions of his usual repertory… Then in 1963, once again, he produced magic. He turned to younger musicians who would surely have had important careers on their own but who, under Davis’s tutelage merged into a historic ensemble, greater than its very considerable parts. The rhythm section consisted of three prodigiously skillful musicians who valued diversity over an allegiance to one style of music: pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and seventeen-year-old drummer Tony Williams… In late 1964, Wayne Shorter, who made his name as a saxophonist and composer with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, joined the band, a decision that changed his life and Davis’s, and made this second great quintet a worthy follow-up to the 1955 group with Coltrane” (Perry wtju91.1fm). “Most first-rate rhythm sections work like the fingers in a fist. Coltrane’s quartet, for example, achieved a fiercely unified front devoted to supporting the leader. Davis’s group was no less unified, but its parts interacted with more freedom, often rivaling the soloists. So much was going on between Hancock’s unruffled block chords, Carter’s slippery bass lines, and Williams’s rhythmic brushfires that they all appeared to be soloing at the same time.”
We can now see how Miles’s search for freer sounds eventually led him to 1970’s Bitches Brew and analyze the dynamics of where he was going with the quintet vision of Winter in Europe 1967.