First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2002, Volume 9, #11
Written by John Metzger
When Miles Davis took a brief hiatus from the music business in the late 1970s, Columbia Records began to mine its archives for previously unreleased material. One of the first albums compiled by the label during this period was Water Babies, a superb outing that combined music from recording sessions held nearly a year and a half apart in June 1967 and November 1968. What’s unique about this time frame is that Davis was in the process of dramatically shifting his style from the acoustic quintet showcased on Nefertiti to the exploratory electric fusion that reached perfection on Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. Therefore, Water Babies captures Davis right smack in the middle of this transition. Just as Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home gave folk a new life within the context of rock ’n‘ roll, Davis’ Water Babies reinvented jazz. Perhaps it’s not so coincidental, then, that both albums featured an acoustic side and an electric side, a design that brilliantly transports the listener from the past to the future.
Side one of Water Babies showcased the adventurous bop of Davis’ second quintet — a truly magnificent ensemble that included saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bass player Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams. Its three compositions (the title track, Capricorn, and Sweet Pea) — all composed by Shorter — hinted at the free-range exploration to come, but each track remained firmly rooted in the swinging grooves perfected by the quintet on its earlier outings. Carter and Williams spoke from one mind as the duo laid down its tightly undulating rhythms, and the graceful chord progressions and sprightly piano solos emanating from Hancock were simply divine. Over this flew the soaring leads of Shorter and Davis.
As for the second side of Water Babies, it offered a somewhat different line-up. By this time, Dave Holland had replaced Roy Carter on bass, Chick Corea had joined the fold, and both Corea and Hancock were performing on electric piano. Meanwhile, the ensemble’s sound had taken a turn towards freer arrangements with fewer boundaries, allowing for more elongated songs. Only two tracks — Two Faced and Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams Process — graced the latter half of the album, though the CD reissue includes a third selection (Splash), which has now been restored to its full-length. Both bass and keyboards were featured more prominently on each of these songs, and the open-ended, impressionistic arrangements were more intent on creating a moody ambience than on capturing a specific melodic theme. Davis would take this new approach much further over his next few albums, but Water Babies fills in the gaps quite nicely for those wanting to catch a glimpse at exactly how he moved from Point A to Point B. ½
Of Further Interest...
Water Babies is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box