Like Miles Davis, Vol. 1, this set features arrangements in the order that they were recorded. (Vol. 2 contains the second Blue Note session, while Vol. 1 focused on the first and third.) This 1953 date was the most inspired, overtly beboppish of Davis' three Blue Note sessions -- an ambitious showcase for modern jazz's greatest composers (J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Bud Powell, Jimmy Heath, Walter Fuller, and Dizzy Gillespie), and a remarkable rhythm section (drummer Art Blakey, bassist Percy Heath, and the obscure pianist Gil Coggins).
A dynamic front line of Davis, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and the bassist's brother Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone, gives each tune big-band weight and texture. J.J. Johnson's lilting "Kelo" and tragic "Enigma" proceed from the orchestral tradition of Birth of the Cool, and his taut, velvety, tenor trombone counterpoint contrasts nicely with Davis' burnished mid-range and brassy cry. Tenor man Jimmy Heath seems to take the Basie and Gillespie big bands as the jumping-off point for his jazz classic "C.T.A.," and ends his own solo with an affectionate nod to Lester Young. Davis' ballad turn on "I Waited for You" is one of his most alluring performances, while his effortless swing on "C.T.A." and "Ray's Idea" sums up his innovations in blues phrasing. But his solo and arrangement on "Tempus Fugit" are simply transcendent. This Bud Powell anthem for modernists generates a challenging set of symphonic variations, driven along by the emotional intensity of Art Blakey. The joy with which Davis and Blakey morph between swing and Afro-Cuban rhythms, blues, and bop phrasing, is what jazz is all about.