Miles Davis: Water Babies (1967) Columbia


Selection: Sweet Pea (Shorter) – 1967 quintet: somnambulant floating groove,  immersive, pensive, no-bop.


Side 1: Miles Davis (trumpet) Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Tony Williams (drums) recorded Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC, June 7,13 and 23, 1967
Side 2: Miles Davis (trumpet) Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone) Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock (electric piano) Dave Holland (bass) Tony Williams (drums) recorded Columbia Studio B, NYC, November 11-12, 1968, recording engineer Stan Tonkel.

Water Babies condemned by Allmusic

 ” not an essential set, this album fills in some gaps during Davis’s transitional period from adventurous acoustic playing to early electric performances”


water babies allmusic rating

Fills some gaps? Sorry, Scott Yanow – users bumped it up an extra star, perhaps a little more appreciated than you thought. Still, he’s not the only one making mistakes.

LJC-DunceA record I had mistakenly avoided. Released in 1976 I thought it sat in Miles electric period of which I am not a fan, on a skinny no-eye Columbia Columbia red label, which I also mistakenly avoid. Wrong again, on all counts LJC. What a dunce. Still, there are worse things than looking stupid in front of 500 daily visitors (though none come to mind immediately)

The Water Babies are in fact orphans, titles left behind from ten years previously, between 1967 two weeks before the Nefertiti sessions  and Miles  transitional period leading up to In a Silent Way (late 1968-9). You all know this, of course, but I didn’t. So it is a bridge between old and new Miles Davis, released ten years after it was recorded, with Chick Corea and electric piano making a first appearance on a couple of tracks, I read somewhere Hancock says he was not present as stated in the credits to the Corea session, and John McLaughlin not yet present still waiting for his airplane ticket to the States. Phew, that was a close call.

LJC-Jason-King-BandW-2Hey LJC, what’s all this dissing John McLaughlin? Look, according to the marketing geniuses, everyone my age is supposed to want to go back to the music they listened to of their youth, when they used to have hair, like it says in the Google Play ads?  I got nine McLaughlin albums in my loft, that’s what I used to listened to in my youth. Now, I can’t bear him and I have still got all my hair – just no moustache. So much for the  marketing geniuses.

As usual, the geniuses of the marketing industry, of course in their thirties and forties, are mocking their dad, unconsciously projecting the loss of their own youth. I got over mine decades ago.


Illustration by Corky McCoy, who clearly found favour with Miles (once Miles had ran out of  wives to put on his covers). Its all very funky street hustle big hair At The Car Wash style, not much to do with this music. I really don’t know what they were thinking of on  “Big Fun”. Naked women on record covers? Who’d have thought it..


Vinyl: C 34395 –  1976 1st US issue (no barcode on the cover) – 112 gram vinyl. Goldmine and Discogs list a PC 34396, and not C 34396.

The red label no-eye Columbia Columbia  is a conundrum. These recordings still sound fresh to me,  in part recorded at the magical 30th St Columbia Studios, tape that was less than ten years old on transfer to vinyl. They are on a later Columbia label I avoid, unless you have no choice, as in this case. Yet defying expectation, they sound great, despite an anorexic 112 gm vinyl weight. What gives?

What gives, I think, is that the Columbia no-eye  label had a very long run, 1970’s right through to late eighties, maybe longer. There were all sorts of crucial technology changes during the long  life of the label, including less than stellar eighties reissues.  Not all record under this red label are equal. Remember, all generalisations are dangerous, including this one.



Collectors Corner

Source: North London store, again. Hi guys.

Its been a  bad week on Ebay again, nothing sensible wins, new collectors starting out throwing money at building a collection fast, dealers throwing money at anything they think they can resell for more. I know I am on the right wavelength when I am 2nd placed price setter. I knew things were going wrong on one auction when even I beat notorious TokyoJazzCollector, Disc Union, only to find myself beaten by a newbie.

A nice mixed score in a shop actually helped me feel much better, with four interesting records going home in the bag for a quarter of one failed bid on Ebay.

While the music industry declares every physical media format dead, replaced by the compressed and limited dynamic range MP3 for mobile devices, there is real quality sounding music on vinyl. Unfortunately, more people seem to be waking up to it. With little interested in “modern” pop music I knew nothing of the “loudness wars” until trying to understand more about “limiting”, as practiced by sound engineers, I came across this very short explanatory Youtube that enabled me in a flash to understand how music was being crippled to make it louder. I just thought it was just crap anyway, but no, music reproduction quality is deliberately going backwards.

Never mind the poor Evil Silver Disk, I feel almost sorry for it (I said almost, not actually) Something much more evil has been afoot that I wasn’t aware of. I’d get angry about it too (except it doesn’t really affect me, I think).

It’s those marketing geniuses again. They have a lot to answer for.

13 thoughts on “Miles Davis: Water Babies (1967) Columbia

  1. Water Babies is a very underrated album of mostly excellent Wayne Shorter compositions. Check out the Wayne Shorter solo album where these cuts also appear. Different band and played in a looser, free jazz form.

  2. Although I have no hard facts to prove it, I am sure the “loudness wars” were fought mainly in the field of pop music and do not apply to classical or jazz music to the same extent. Let us not forget that from the early days of the CD, one of the main arguments brought forth in its favour has always been about dynamic range, AND RIGHTLY SO. It’s true that “music reproduction quality is deliberately going backwards” – but don’t blame the CD for it.

  3. Yes, traditional compression in remastering is often more about recent CDs and downloads. I come across it when I compare my vinyl to the CD, be it pop or jazz. I find that the early CD era which was initially decried for sounding awful, often contains the least compressed version of a CD, and the more modern remasters of same have been further compressed or futzed with. Ah, progress!

  4. I haven’t played WATER BABIES for years — I should. But on another note, I just bought ten or a dozen Japanese Victor and Nippon Phonogram 1970s represses in a batch and these included impeccable copies of STEAMIN’, WORKIN’, and RELAXIN’, MILES +19, Mulligan’s gorgeous NIGHT LIGHTS, and more — and they all look as if they left the factory yesterday.

    These, along with Air’s AIR RAID and AIR SONG (on the Japanese Why Not/Trio Records label), Braxton’s THREE COMPOSITIONS OF NEW JAZZ (Delmark, and an original as far as I can tell, although again it looks literally brand new), an Analog Productions repress of BLACK SAINT AND THE SINNER LADY and something else (which for the life of me I can’t remember) will; be amongst theChristmas listening.

    At which point it seems fitting to wish LJC and everyone who contributes a Happy Christmas, a good new year, and as much jazz as you want or need.

    • Love the quantity. Sounds like Santa got sleigh-jacked.

      As it seems well nigh-impossible to win any highly collectable records on ebay any more, we are all going to have to pursue the beloved music in ever-more diverse ways in 2014.

      It is the season of goodwill to all men, which I propose to extend temporarily to include followers of the evil silver disk.

      (Once we get Christmas out the way, the battle between good and evil will recommence)

      • I finally did get round to playing this over Xmas, and even tried to log-in and post a comment but for some reason couldn’t using my wife’s iPad. Anyway, it’s much better than I recalled — with the exception of The Dual Mr Tillman, which to my ears sounds suspiciously like filler…. But the rest is top-notch.

  5. Hey LJC: Thanks for the blog. I have been reading it for months & find it quite informative & humorous. Neil Young, in his recent book “Waging Heavy Peace”, states that you only hear 15% of the music on CD & 5% on MP3. Bill from Jersey

    • Hey Bill – I love vinyl – and agree with most of what’s been said about CDs, but think only 15% is a little over the top. 5% on MP3 however, I might agree.

      I recently picked up a very nice flagship model of a Marantz SACD player. And honestly, I have to say when done right, CD reproduction of music can sound very pleasing. Not like vinyl, which gives me a visceral sense of the music, but sweet and crystal like. The Marantz player was a step-up for me over my previous Primare CD transport and Benchmark DAC combination, which sounded very good. SACD provides more headroom over Redbook CDs, in my opinion.

      I really think the studio engineers of today have done more harm to music reproduction than the actual mediums. I don’t know why they do it, but it seems they always want to put more edge on the music – maybe that’s the loudness factor talked about in LJC’s blog.

      I recently tried listening to a Seal CD, and the sound quality was awful. In case I was being overly judgmental and for comparison, I listened to a CD from the earlier years of CD reproduction (a Aretha Franklin compilation), and dare I say, it actually sounds quite nice. Not vinyl, but not bad. SACD can have this same effect on me.

      Anyway, just my opinion.

      I would be interested to hear others opinion on this overly discussed subject.

      In the meantime, check out this interview on the subject:


      • Thanks for this, really interesting guy. Everybody ultimately runs out of words to explain what vinyl does and why, but rendering music “compelling” and “involving” seems to sum it up, an emotional connection with the music that draws you in, makes you want to listen it. I poke fun at CD but its not so bad, just not as good.

        • Yes, I love his analogy, and share your assessment of today’s digital offerings. I have rediscovered the joy of buying and listening to music because of vinyl.

          A software professional told be once that digital can sound as good as analog (vinyl), but that it would be awfully expensive. And that digital is trying to imitate artificially what is real and natural for analog/vinyl.

          BTW, great blog and website.

  6. I recently picked up a wafer thin copy of Water Babies on eBay based on a recommendation from a friend. And I agree, the thinnest of the record does not distract from the sound quality, although I don’t have anything to compare it to, so I could be wrong. I have learned not to trust my initial ears or early conclusions without additional research and study.

    I am one of those Miles Davis fan from the seventies who was disappointed with Miles’ electronic offerings and refused to listen to them, let alone buy any of his recordings during the latter part of the seventies. Actually, I stopped buying Miles’ electronic stuff after Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson, which I absolutely loved. I loved Jack Johnson so, that I convinced my early seventies R&B band to learn and perform the first cut on the album before live audiences at cabarets (our main fan base back then). We had this phenomenal lead guitar player in the band who actual learned John McLaughlin’s solo part just by listening to the track and picking out the guitar part. If I remember I did not do so poorly myself transcribing and playing some of the more accessible Miles riffs either. The band had a lot of fun with it, and surprisingly our cabaret audience at least appreciated it that I don’t remember any objections from them. Of course it could have been the drink and smoke of the times that they just weren’t listening or cared. I choose to think they appreciated it.

    Anyway I digress – Water Babies is a phenomenal recording and very accessible. I think it more like Miles Smiles and much more accessible than Bitches Brew and Live Evil. I believe I did not give Water Babies a chance back in the mid seventies because by the time Columbia released it (almost 10 years after Miles in studio recording circa 1967) my life had changed and I was running away from a destructive life of drugs and rock-n-roll. Silly me – like most people I threw the baby out with the bath water.

    Life is funny. Here it is 2013, and for the last 10 years or so, I am just getting back to retracing a lot of the jazz I missed during my self-imposed sabbatical. I am thankful for Internet sites like this one and others that help me in my quest. And forgive me if this sounds too much like confessions of a modern day baby boomer – it is.

  7. nice pick as always 😉 water babies has actually been a favorite of mine as soon as (re) issued back in the days, when a “new” miles album always was a sensation. i first got it on K7, dig that!
    i was really into that second quartet back then and this album has a groove of its own… still have the tape and my own lp copy is an average dutch cbs pressing. keep on groovin’

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