Miles of Miles and Ella
One is an article for the Arts & Leisure section of this past Sunday’s New York Times, about a new and startling 4-CD boxed set of previously unreleased Ella Fitzgerald sets, recorded in an L.A. nightclub in 1961 and ’62 (i.e., her peak years), called Twelve Nights in Hollywood (Verve).
The other is a brief review for New York Magazine of an eyebrow-raising 70-CD Miles Davis boxed set called The Complete Columbia Album Collection. That’s 52 albums, plus a previously unissued DVD of the 1967 quintet playing two concerts in Europe.
But one thing I didn’t much mention in either article was the question you might be asking right now: How’s the sound quality?
The Ella sets—which, by the way, are some of the best Ella Fitzgerald ever recorded (!)—sound quite nice indeed. (They were produced by Norman Granz and engineered by Val Valentin.) In the pantheon of Ella, they’re not up to the sonic standards of her best studio albums, but they’re among her best-sounding live dates, similar in caliber to Ella in Rome (from 1958 concert tapes, which were discovered 30 years later); they’re far superior to Live at Mr. Kelly’s (a ’58 date excavated from the archives just two years ago), which, remarkably, is the only other recording of Ella singing in a small club.
This boxed set is the best recording of the year. Get it.
The Miles box (put out by Sony/Legacy) is more complicated. They all sound quite good, as most of Miles’ Columbia recordings did. (Yes, the original pressings of the mid-to-late ‘60s LPs were less than stellar, but, as we found out much later, with the Mosaic reissues, that was because of the era’s vinyl—or dreadful EQ on the production tapes—not because of the master tapes.)
These are, with few exceptions, the best-sounding CDs of these albums out there, taken from the most recent remasterings. (Of course, the LP reissues by Classic Records are far superior. I should add that the box includes only Miles’ Columbia albums, not those for Blue Note, Prestige, or Warner Bros.)
Sony/Legacy’s P.R. department informs me that the following discs in the box were taken from DSD masters: Directions, Quiet Nights, We Want Miles, Star People, Decoy, and Aura.
The following came from Japanese masters: Circle in the Round, Miles in Tokyo, At Filmore 1970, On the Corner, Get Up with It, Pangaea, The Man with the Horn, E.S.P., Filles de Kilimanjaro, Black Beauty, You’re Under Arrest, and Agharta.
I can’t claim to have done comprehensive A/Bs, but for the random selection of 10 or so that I did compare, the discs in the box sound at least as good as the single discs that have been out in the market for a while, except for Aura, which, for some reason, lacks some of the original CD’s depth and dynamics.
The box is available only from amazon.com for under $300, or about $5 per disc: not bad.
One thing I’ve just learned while writing this: Some customers have complained to amazon that the boxes have been crushed in the mail and that some of the discs have specks of glue from their thin cardboard sleeves. As a result, Sony/Legacy is in the midst of a recall and will soon put out sturdier boxes and re-glued folders. I should say that my box came in fine shape and that, while a few discs had a speck of glue, my (constantly bitten) fingernails removed it with no problem—and no sonic detriment.