This reissue of the original 1957 Miles Davis (nonet) album, which itself was a 'collection' of earlier sessions recorded over three separate dates in the years 1949 and 1950, whilst making for highly impressive listening in its own right, is now rightly regarded as one of the most influential jazz recordings of its era. Not only did Birth Of The Cool (probably too self-aggrandising, not to say meaningless, a title to be honest, despite the album's later significance) serve to lay the groundwork for some of the key phases of Davis' own musical development (most notably his collaboration with Gil Evans, who also assumes some of the composing and arranging duties here) but also a good deal of small band jazz that followed, as well as some of the more expansive developments of the likes of Charles Mingus - all the more remarkable to think that band leader Davis was only 23 at the time!
Here the three incarnations of Davis' nonet, of which his horn and Gerry Mulligan's baritone sax are ever present (and, arguably, most influential), along with Lee Konitz's alto sax and John Barber's tuba, serve to create an intoxicating band sound, in which improvisation and pre-arrangement strike a near perfect balance, and the use of polyphonic 'harmony playing', across the instruments, was revolutionary for the time (and helped achieve Davis' ambition that the instruments should sound like 'human voices singing').
Of the 12 tunes included (all running to around 3 minutes), Mulligan takes the most prominent role in terms of arrangement (Godchild, Deception, Jeru, Venus De Milo, Rocker and Darn That Dream), whilst he (Jeru, Venus De Milo and Rocker) and Miles (Budo and Deception) also penned the most numbers. Although, for me, there is virtually not a weak moment here (although Darn That Dream, with Kenny Hagood's vocal does feel slightly out of place), if I had to pick favourites I would opt for the vibrant opener Denzil Best's Move (featuring a great solo from Konitz), Evans' beautiful arrangement of Moon Dreams (like something straight off Miles Ahead), the exquisite tone from Davis' horn on his own composition Deception, the seamless ensemble playing on Mulligan's Rocker (and the man's baritone 'break') and the intoxicating swing of John Lewis' Rouge (featuring a nice piano solo by the man himself).