Vinyl Me, Please August Edition: Miles Davis & John Coltrane “The Final Tour”
Good things come in 12 inch packages. Delivering limited edition pressings of new and classic albums directly to your doorstep, Vinyl Me, Please operates under a simple philosophy: The Album Lives. With a carefully curated catalog of new and hard to find releases, the subscription service is more than just a record club…it’s a lifestyle choice for folks who wish Record Store Day could happen every month. In their living room.
Here’s how it works. You send Vinyl Me, Please some of your hard-earned money (plans start at $27/month) and they send you one meticulously selected album worthy of your time and attention. Easy, right? Each custom pressing (often on colored vinyl!) also comes with special features like original artwork and even a recipe for a companion cocktail. You’ll have membership privileges in the VMP shop, which means you can grab a copy of previous VMP selections from the archives – including July’s immaculate repressing of The Silvertones’ largely unheralded reggae classic Silver Bullets – not to mention a bevy of rare and exclusive releases. Just FYI, the store is now open, and it’s chock full of sexy new discs that need a loving home amongst your perpetually incomplete collection.
Whatever styles or artists or limited edition pressings you’re looking for, you’re bound to find something in the VMP Store. While the store is open to the public, many of the covet-worthy selections are only available to members, so you’ve gotta sign up to get your mitts on them. If you’re peckish about relinquishing control of your record collection over to complete strangers, know that VMP’s Swaps Program is in full effect. That means you can flip any VMP pick you don’t like for a past AOM that’s a little more your speed. My advice? Don’t overthink it. Do yourself a favor and sign up today.
So, what’s in the box this month? Would a scorching, first time vinyl pressing of a live set from Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s last tour together be of interest to you? If not, well, you really need to adjust your musical priorities.
You better believe I scooped up a copy of that shiny new reissue of U2’s sci-fi epic Zooropa from the VMP store this month. I know, I know, it’s all to easy to throw shade at Bono & Co. these days (they’ve admittedly become odd little caricatures of themselves in recent years), but it’s important to remember that they were once legit the biggest band in the world. It’s important to remember as well that instead of producing and reproducing recycled imitations of the music that made them famous leading up to that period (see The Joshua Tree), they got seriously weird and experimental for a run of three albums (Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop) that saw the band at the height of their creative abilities and artistic ambition. Zooropa is the middle child of that period, and it’s an absolute masterpiece. Don’t bother trying to argue that point.
For the Love of Music, Please DO NOT BEND (or, how I learned that Classics are turning into the new Essentials)
Ok, if you’ve been keeping track of Vinyl Me, Please selections of late, you probably realize that the August Essentials pick was the killer new album from Mitski titled Be the Cowboy. While I firmly believe Mitski to be a compelling, often exhilarating new-ish voice on the indie rock/pop scene (her marvelous 2014 release Bury Me at Makeout Creek is required listening), I wasn’t quite ready to deem her latest effort essential for my own personal collection. History may well prove me wrong on that point (I sort of hope it does), but I also couldn’t help but notice the inspired picks Team VMP has been making with the Classics subscription, so I jumped at the chance to Swap this month and add something special to the jazz section of my vinyl collection. Little did I know just how special The Final Tour from Miles Davis & John Coltrane would be.
If you recognize those names, then you likely already know that each of those players are icons in the realm of jazz in their own rights (Davis as a trumpeter/band leader/experimenter and Coltrane as one of the greatest saxophonists that ever played). Somehow, people still don’t seem to realize that the pair spent a good chunk of their early days playing and recording together. That period began in the summer of 1955 when Davis (already a legend after “birthing” the cool and for having an uncanny ear for talent) called upon an all but unknown Philadelphia based sax player by the name of John Coltrane to fill out his latest quintet.
The pairing (unspooling off and on over the next five years) proved more than fruitful for both, with Davis finding a saxophonist capable of playing literally anything and Coltrane finding an endlessly creative space that allowed him hone his craft and build his name. It culminated in 1959 with the recording of Davis’ landmark album Kind of Blue, which stands as one of (if not) the greatest jazz recording in history.
But a lot can change in a year. By the time Davis was assembling a quintet for a few weeks of European tour dates in 1960, Coltrane (primed to go and do his own thing) wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about hitting the road in the shadow of the great Miles Davis. Eventually Coltrane relented, opting to use the tour as a chance to test out his boundary-pushing style, and to give a fond farewell to what many jazz enthusiasts had dubbed “the first great quintet.” As one might imagine, the tension was thick between the pair for the duration of the tour, with Coltrane keeping entirely to himself most days and Davis often leaving the stage for Coltrane’s solos. Still, that tension translated into absolute fire on the stage, with each player pushing the other beyond the bounds of the music they’d so carefully crafted over the years.
Of Coltrane’s solos, I’ll simply say that even his most devoted fans may not be prepared for the unbridled energy and astonishing innovation he brings to the stage on these recordings. Many of the Parisian audience members certainly weren’t, and can be heard whistling with dismay at what they perceived as Coltrane’s erratic, possibly drug-addled playing throughout. In reality, those whistlers were simply witnessing the birth of a new style of playing. One that Coltrane would use to build his own legend in the years to come.
That’s not to say The Final Tour is all about what Coltrane was doing. It wasn’t. Davis’ playing throughout this set is nothing short of electric, often matching Coltrane in both passion and spontaneity. Wynton Kelly delivers some of the finest piano solos you’re likely to hear from any stage or era while Chambers and Cobb somehow manage to keep this seeming runaway train of musical exploration firmly on the tracks. To say more would be to take away from what these legends delivered on The Final Tour. Sometimes, after all, words just aren’t enough, and you really just need to hear it for yourself. See that you do.
The Final Tour stands as a towering document of two masters who knew their time together was at an end. So the relatively simple photography and bootleggy feel on the front cover (and back) seem more than in order.
But What’s in the Box!?
While the Swaps Program is a game-changer for those of us looking to fine-tune a collection with exactly the albums we want, it does come at a little bit of a cost – i.e. you don’t get the original artwork or cocktail recipe that come with every VMP Essential pick – but if you’re looking to build specific pieces to your collection, those frequently fascinating accompaniment are hardly essential themselves. Anyway, if you find you need something to look at while listening to your records, I feel I should tell you that you are, in fact, doing it wrong, and if you need something to drink with your tunes, I’d encourage you to have Gin and Tonic (a little gin, a little tonic, and a little lime is all you’ll need) and call it an evening. On to the business at hand, eh?
And yes, listening to Davis and Coltrane live is some serious business. If you don’t believe me, you’ll want to check the info on this little sticker to see just how serious this release is. First official vinyl pressing. 180g pressing. Produced by Mr. Mark Wilder at Battery Studios. Sourced from original archives. Yes, Team VMP took this release quite seriously indeed.
They even gave it a sexy little Gold foil stamp to mark its Classics debut.
While you’ve got the album flipped over, be sure to note the insane lineup of jazz greats you get to hear in this electrifying performance. Just FYI – that’s essentially the same crew (save for Bill Evans and Julian “Cannonball” Adderly) that filled the studio for Davis’ legendary Kind of Blue recordings.
Now, before you start digging in those sleeves, take a few moments to ogle the breathtaking photographs that line that gatefold sleeve.
Once you get into those sleeves, you’ll find a little something that’s been missing from most VMP picks of late, a digital download card so you can take this legendary live set on the road with you anywhere. I can assure you that it’ll sound just fine in your headphones as well.
And while you may not get original artwork and a complicated cocktail recipe to tinker with in the Classics subscription pack, you do get this handy little listening guide that’s written by Grammy winning music historian Ashley Kahn, and packed with fascinating insights about what was going on between Davis and Coltrane at the time of the fateful tour.
Of course, the most important things you’ll find in this month’s package is the glorious, 180g slab of wax that’s destined to set your turntable ablaze.
Yes, there’s two of them. And they combine for a whopping 86 minutes of music.
And they’ll both look equally sexy on whatever turntable they may be gracing. But they do look especially sexy with a red backdrop.
How do they sound? Look, I could tell you that Coltrane solos like a melodic hurricane throughout this set, or that Davis brings the as much avant-cool experimentation to the stage here as any performance of his lauded career. But as I said earlier, it’s probably best to just have a little listen for yourself. You can go ahead and press play now.
Give It a Spin
The Last Tour may have officially been a VMP Classics pick, but a live recording of Miles Davis and John Coltrane is the definition of “must own” for jazz aficionados, and it’ll probably score big with jazz neophytes as well. The fact that it’s available on vinyl at all seems a minor miracle. That you can dig this absolutely stunning recording as part of your VMP membership is further proof of just how essential their service actually is. Thanks Team VMP for helping me fill out the jazz shelf of my collection this month, and for making every new selection (Classic, Essential, etc.) feel like an adventure.
A big THANK YOU to our friends at Vinyl Me, Please for sponsoring this subscription. Don’t forget to check out the official Vinyl Me, Please website and sign up to get some choice wax delivered right to your door each month! Can’t wait to see what tasty treat they send our way for September!