Boomkat Product Review:
One of Milford Graves' most iconic full-lengths, 'Bäbi' is a searing, alchemical set from free jazz's most innovative drummer. Alongside reed players Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover, Graves melts the boundaries of the genre, vocalizing wildly as he controls the performance and shapes the future of extreme music in real-time.
Graves had already made his mark by the time he recorded 'Bäbi' in 1976; he'd played in Albert Ayler's band, with Sonny Sharrock and with a plethora of NYC's greats, and challenged perceptions of free music with his mythical Yale University performance. But there was nothing to prepare listeners for 'Bäbi'. This time he brought in Alabama-born reed player Arthur Doyle, who'd cut his teeth with Sun Ra and, most notoriously, appeared on Noah Howard's epochal 'The Black Ark'. Doyle was known for his ferocious, unrestrained style; he was difficult to play with and hard to control - just like Graves. Glover, meanwhile, was a regular Graves collaborator, who knew only too well how to match his friend's insatiable energy. The trio brought lightning in a bottle, and Graves handled it not by acting as a metronome but as a shaman, regulating the energy without stifling it.
A keen inventor, Graves had rebuilt his kit, removing the second heads from each drum and replacing his snare with two toms. This not only allowed him to play more fluidly, but let him control the tone of his percussion, following directions he'd heard while studying Caribbean and African music. On 'Ba', he immediately explodes, layering splattery rolls over one another and screaming to match Glover and Doyle's upper-register horn screams. Within a few minutes, it's quite clear you're hearing music that's as extreme as anything in existence, but it's not volume for volume's sake, or cathartic density, it's three souls sharing their passion, rage and skill. Mid-way through the track, Graves babbles and sings unaccompanied, before Doyle and Glover's squealing horns almost drown him out, sounding like kettles boiling over. When Graves touches the kit again, it's with a fury that's rarely captured on record, like tidal waves crashing into ancient monuments.
The 15-minute title track is, somehow, even more vehemently profound, with Graves more recognizably incorporating African rhythmic phrases into his manic patter. The polyrhythms seem to snowball over each other, picking up extra notes and tones as he switches from tempo to tempo, and Doyle and Glover meet the challenge head on, coaxing sounds from their horns that few players imagine, let alone perform. And if there's one thing that stands out here, it's how heartily joyful the performance is. Anyone who's seen the phenomenal 'Full Mantis' documentary will know how sincere Graves is, but it's plain to hear on 'Bäbi' when he disturbs his surreal rolls with screams of delight. It might be extreme music, but it's human, too. Essential listening!