Miles Davis died in 1991, right at the beginning of a golden age for jazz preservation and remastering. Virtually every classic label–Blue Note, Impulse!, CTI, ECM, Atlantic, Verve, Decca–did yeoman’s work during the 90s, pumping out impeccable-sounding, lavishly packaged back catalog reissues and box sets. But no artist got the royal treatment like Davis, whose every Columbia LP has been rereleased, and whose many career phases have been scrupulously documented in the label’s 8 themed box sets (Miles Davis and John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings, The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, etc). And that number doesn’t reflect the live box sets put out by Columbia post-1991, like The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel or The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991, nor does it include the numerous posthumous live releases compiled by the label, like It’s About That Time, or the numerous single- and double-disc Davis compilations they’ve released, like The Essential Miles Davis, The Best of Miles Davis, Blue Miles, and Love Songs.
The Columbia Campaign to Assert Beyond Reasonable Doubt That Miles Davis Was The Baddest-Ass Musician of All-Time stumbled into what seemed like an ignoble end in late 2008, when their 70-disc (!) Complete Columbia Album Collection, sold exclusively through Amazon, incited hundreds of complaints about shoddy packaging. (The original Amazon listing, with some of the most pissed-off customer reviews I’ve ever seen, has been replaced by that for a purportedly cleaned-up second pressing.)
But haters (and recession) be damned, Columbia is pressing on, with probably the most ostentatious, most for-collectors-only bit of hero worship ever produced by a record label: In September, they will release The Genius of Miles Davis, a box set consisting of (wait for it) the 8 previous themed box sets they released over the last 15 years.
All these boxes come packaged together in a case designed to look like a trumpet case. In addition to the 43 discs, the box also includes a previously unavailable fine art lithograph, a fancy T-shirt, and (holy shit) an exact replica of Davis’ “Gustav” Heim 2 model mouthpiece. The whole thing weighs 21 pounds.
The box set industry always walks a fine line between exploitation and legitimate curatorial work. But it seems irrefutable that the main audience for these things, by design, is hard-core fans. Collectors. People who don’t just want to dabble in an artist’s work, but want to compare multiple studio takes of the same song and learn about microphone placement and put something impressive on their shelf. These are people who will probably buy anything with their chosen artist’s name on it, and thus the label has a particular duty to not exploit their insatiability. But here’s a collection of music that’s all been previously, and expensively, released, tarted up with some gewgaws and sexy packaging, and ostensibly aimed at the biggest Miles Davis fans in world, all of whom probably already own the individual boxes.
In other words: If pissing on the heads of the few remaining jazz-obsessives is cool, consider this box set Miles Davis.