Monday, March 21, 2016

Miles Davis - 1976 [2002] "Water Babies"

Water Babies is a studio album by Miles Davis. Released during Miles Davis's retirement in the second half of the seventies, it is a collection of stylistically diverse "leftovers" spanning eighteen months, from the Nefertiti sessions with the Miles Davis Quintet (1967) to the experimental, transitional period between Filles de Kilimanjaro and In a Silent Way (late 1968).
Due to these recordings being released years after they were recorded, the three Wayne Shorter compositions recorded during the 1967 session had made their first appearance in 1969 on Shorter's album Super Nova in a much more free jazz, avant-garde style.
Side 1 features the second great quintet of Davis, Shorter, Hancock, Williams and Carter. On Side 2, Ron Carter is replaced by Dave Holland and Chick Corea doubles with Hancock on electric piano; this line-up is very similar to the one that recorded In a Silent Way, tracks 4 to 6 being from those sessions. Shorter would switch from tenor to soprano saxophone after this session.

This studio LP was first released almost a decade after it was recorded. The first half features the 1967 Quintet (with Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams) performing three otherwise unknown Shorter compositions. The flip side finds Davis in 1968 leading the same group (with possibly Chick Corea and Dave Holland replacing Hancock and Carter) on two early fusion jams that look a bit toward Bitches Brew. Although not an essential set, this album fills in some gaps during Davis's transitional period from adventurous acoustic playing to early electric performances. 

Side one contains three Shorter compositions recorded on Wayne's 1969 Super Nova (Blue Note); comparisons between the performances confirm Hancock's 1969 comment that "Miles ... shapes all the tunes that come into his band." He shaped his accompanists as well, editing and muting their more extroverted tendencies — at least Shorter, Hancock and Williams sound quite different on their own Blue Note albums of the time. Yet the drummer's simple cymbal dance behind Davis' gentle "Water Babies" solo, and his melodic accompaniment for Shorter on the same piece, are still overwhelming. Carter also gets a chance to dance around Hancock's chorded spot.

The smoking "Capricorn" bears Miles' mark in the use of piano — Hancock lays out through most of the track and solos only with his right hand. Miles harks back to 1956 in his solo, but Carter and Williams boil and evaporate behind him in more contemporary fashion. The way Shorter's thoughts unravel, growing denser and more complex yet still referring to the theme, is marvelous. "Sweet Pea" (dedicated to composer and Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn) has a mysterious, floating theme statement. The intensely shaped sorrow in Miles' tone is buoyed by Spanish tinges in the rhythm section, Shorter's sound offers a beautiful complement, and Hancock offers homage to 1959 Bill Evans.

Both tracks on side two feature Hancock and Chick Corea on subdued electric pianos, with the keyboard on left speaker (probably Hancock) dominating throughout. Shorter's "Two Faced" sounds like a dry run for the In a Silent Way sessions; I find it more successful. Williams, Carter and the pianists converse with great spirit, and Shorter plays off the rolling keyboards brilliantly. The long Davis solo is a sustained sigh with more acute hurt occasionally cracking through. "Dual Mr. Tillman Anthony" is credited to one "W. Process" (Tillman is the first name of Anthony Williams' father); it's a funky, syncopated riff, 14 measures long, repeated for 13 minutes by Corea, Carter and bassist Dave Holland while the others cook. Miles is magnificent here, gliding over the line at his own internal, slower tempo while Hancock and Williams bubble around him. Shorter swaggers, recalling the tenor's historical lineage, and Williams takes the piece out.

Time has revealed this band to be as daring and fascinating as any in the long Davis career, and Water Babies contains some of its best music. There is simply so much happening here; hear it.

In 1976, when Miles’ withdrawal from the scene seemed to go on forever, Columbia released an album bringing together two different periods on each side of a single LP.  Side A featured three sublime pieces composed by Wayne Shorter in the spring of 1967. The opening waltz inspired each member of the quintet to such heights that one doesn’t  know who to listen to first—even if the major part was nothing but a concerto grosso of cymbals that accompanied the improbable score of nuances modulating the regular beat of the Charleston cymbal. In “Capricorn,” Herbie Hancock doesn’t come in at all until his right hand solo, but on “Sweet Pea,” his two hands join with those of Ron Carter and Tony Williams in a collective improvisation that the rhythm section maintains throughout Shorter’s homage to Billy Strayhorn. Side B offers two strange constructions from November 11 and 12, 1968. The electric piano’s swabs of color and the unison of the piano and double bass continued the shift that had begun with Filles De Kilimanjaro, leading to In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew the following year.

Track listing

All songs composed by Wayne Shorter except as noted.

1.    "Water Babies" – 5:06
2.    "Capricorn" – 8:26
3.    "Sweet Pea" – 7:59
4.    "Two Faced" – 18:00
5.    "Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams Process" (Miles Davis, Tony Williams) – 13:20
6.    "Splash" (Miles Davis) – 10:05

Personnel:

Tracks 1-3

    Miles Davis – trumpet
    Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone
    Herbie Hancock – piano
    Ron Carter – bass
    Tony Williams – drums

Tracks 4-6

    Miles Davis – trumpet
    Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone
    Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock – electric piano
    Dave Holland – bass
    Tony Williams – drums

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. This is really nice. I listened to it at 128 mp3 and I'm really looking forward to enjoying the upgrade. Thanks so much.

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