MILES DAVIS — Water Babies (review)

MILES DAVIS — Water Babies album cover Album · 1976 · Post Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
js
Although this record was released in 1976, it was recorded in the late 60s when Miles was shifting from his brilliant Quintet to a larger more experimental ensemble. This album is actually two very different half albums slapped together. Side one features the Quintet, starting to sound a bit restless in their explorations, and side two features the same band, plus Holland and Corea, playing in a much more experimental style. Side one opens with 'Water Babies', a strange mournful tune with a static piano part, Miles and his crew are definitely starting to move further away from traditional jazz. 'Capricorn', which follows, is a great free style hard-bop tune that bears strong similarities to someone Miles had once been critical of, Ornette Coleman. This side closes with 'Sweet Pea', a beautiful and somewhat mysterious and relaxed number by Wayne Shorter, who wrote almost all of the music on this album. On 'Sweet Pea', the band sounds like a French neo-classical chamber ensemble, each member adding their well-timed sound colors to the rich mix. Overall these three performances are not the very best by the Quintet, but they're not bad. The production on this side is rather odd, with the band sounding like they are in a large empty hall. The horns come through, but the rest of the band sounds a bit distant. In a way, that odd production adds to the somewhat lonely sound of these three songs.

Although side one is nice, things get a lot more interesting on side two. The tunes on this side feature a different sound with Hancock switching to Wurlitzer electric piano and Corea, also on a Wurlitzer, joining the band. Dave Holland is also added on bass for a big double bass player sound. The music on this side is also a lot more progressive as Miles starts experimenting with start-stop rhythms and static repetitious structures, all compositional techniques that will come to a head later on his album 'Big Fun'.

'Two Faced' kicks off side two, and is one of the coolest most original songs to ever grace a Miles album. Shorter's bizarre melody, that keeps reappearing throught this lengthy song, has more in common with Prokofiev and Stravinsky than jazz. In-between repetitions of the melody the various band members play lofty and impressionistic solos, the highlight being Corea and Hancock's abstract interactions that blend into a magical electro-piano sound tapestry. Also interesting is Tony Williams' subdued drumming that only uses toms and occasional cymbals.

The album closes with 'Dual Mr. Tillman Anthony', a fun upbeat, yet experimental number that has the band repeating a classic soul/jazz progression that never quite takes off and keeps coming back to it's starting point. This technique of a purposefully frustrating song structure will serve Miles well during his experimental mid-70s period.

I highly recommend this album, side one is nice, but side two is even nicer with it's excellent ground-breaking tunes that clearly indicate where Miles was headed.
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