For the first time, a new release celebrates not just the sound of Davis’s trumpet but the sheer physicality of the instrument. Scheduled for release by Columbia/Legacy on Sept. 14, “The Genius of Miles Davis” is an actual trumpet case housing 43 compact discs, as well as a working trumpet mouthpiece (a replica of Miles’s own), plus such “extras” as a lithograph of one of Davis’s own artworks and a T-shirt. The new release is a triumph of pure packaging: The case contains eight previously issued boxes (now sub-boxes), among them the six-CD “Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961” and the five-CD “The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions”; there is no previously unreleased or even newly remastered music in the entire production. I would hope that anyone purchasing one of the 2,000 copies of this numbered and limited edition, which weighs a whopping 21 pounds and costs an even more whopping $1,199, would own a display case to house it in—or even an altar.
Why are such spectacular, high-ticket releases flourishing in an age when physical CD sales (of individual discs, at least) are steadily declining? Bruce Resnikoff, CEO of Universal Music Enterprises and Verve Music Group, said when we exchanged emails recently that these releases are aimed at “a very committed and active segment of the music-buying public who crave both quality music and packaging the way art collectors crave a classic painting or an iconic photo. This has become even more apparent as the industry has shifted from a purely physical model to a digital model.” Universal releases most of its deluxe boxed sets on its Hip-O imprint, including last year’s very successful Ella Fitzgerald four-CD set “Twelve Nights in Hollywood” (reviewed in these pages) and, more recently, the excellent three-CD “Nat King Cole—Riffin’: The Decca, JATP, Keynote and Mercury Recordings.”