The Complete Miles Davis Columbia Album Collection (Legacy Music) is not aimed at the true fan of the late jazz icon. An aficionado would've availed themselves of the reissues released over the last few years already, that are as comprehensive, singly and collectively, in their own way as this fifty-two album set.
An Amazon-exclusive item, this seventy-one CD box set does have its attractions. The format of mini-LP sleeves, aimed directly at the demographic nostalgic for vinyl (and perhaps new devotees to that configuration as well), is certainly preferable to generic plastic jewel boxes (though perhaps not so superior to the digi-paks of some of the rare titles such as It's About That Time). Isle of Wight 1970 has never before been issued in its entirety, while four titles appear for the first time here in expanded versions. Whether In Paris 1949, Quiet Nights, At Plugged Nickel 1965 and We Want Miles eventually come out separate from the set remains a factor in a potential purchase.
The greatest selling point of all, however, is the DVD included in this package: the only known video footage of what is perhaps Davis' greatest band, the quintet featuring Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter, live from European television in 1967. Their instrumental intensity conjures dramatic stage presence more than any showmanship, so the viewing is fascinating over the course of its 75 minutes. And despite the fact the footage is in black and white, the creative quotient of the camera work is startling: superimposed images of the musicians illuminate their telepathic camaraderie, fading in and out of focus during solo segments, the most striking instance of which is that of the shadows of Williams' drum kit over Shorter and his saxophone.
The relative virtues of this physical only package may not exactly compel a purchase of over $300, despite the low average cost per disc. Considering the extent of detail in recording minutiae and historical chronicles that accompanied the previous reissues (including the lavish box sets some of which have won Grammy awards), it's arguable the 250-page book of photos and essays is an attraction to anyone but the music-lover looking to engage in a crash course on Miles Davis. Still, even just a cursory read of the essays will generate some measure of enlightenment and astonishment at the twists and turns in the life and career of this most influential of jazz musicians. And anyone will marvel at the sound quality of the discs themselves.
Given its limited availability even through this most mainstream of distribution channels, the eventual market value of The Complete Miles Davis Columbia Album Collection may eventually be out of proportion to its dollar value. Yet even if mere consideration of this release provokes interest in Miles Davis where there was none (or little), it'll be worth it. The very existence of this mammoth item reaffirms the work of the man is priceless on its own terms.