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Herbie Hancock - Sextant CD (album) cover

SEXTANT

Herbie Hancock

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.13 | 118 ratings

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thehallway
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The end of an era. An era of excellent music, but poor sales, unsuccessful touring and uncomfortable living conditions. Before Herbie Hancock delivers his first commercial masterpiece, he gives us one more crazy fusion album.

Sextant uses the 1X20, 2X10 format that was popular on 1970s LPs, containing three tracks, with one being twice the length of the other two. 'Rain Dance' is a wonderful, exotic slice of electronica fused with avant-garde jazz and funk grooves. Synthesizers are used extensively here (probably more than on any other Hancock composition), put to good use as rhythmic loops, freaky sound effects, and actual melodies as well. This is the bulk of the piece actually, but the highlights are Herbie's slightly dissonant Rhodes solo and Buster's feature on the double bass, which of course, sounds rather old fashioned on such a futuristic song. It is a composition that will grow on you in terms of enjoyment, but will impress you on intellectual terms right from its first outing.

The more straightforward (a meaningless term on this album, perhaps) 'Hidden Shadows' is built around a rocking 19/4 groove between the bass and drums, which is the only instance of that time signature I have ever encountered. Impressive though the rhythm is, it hardly flows very well. But once the flurries of dense Mellotron, jolly horns and insane piano come rolling along, it's easy to forget all about the awkward timings and just bask in the wall of sound. Tonal variation is where this piece succeeds, as opposed to development of the main themes (if there are any). The African percussion and woodwind bursts are essential to the mood as well, making this song most in tune with the album's cover art, even if it is heavily influenced by Bitches Brew.

The big piece is 'Hornets', and hearing the kazoo-like buzzes and whistles makes it easy to imagine a swarm off bugs dancing around under the moonlight. Unfortunately though, it gets boring. If this jam was close to the length of the other two, it would succeed more as a mood piece. At 19 minutes, the thick bass line and constant cymbals eventually grow into an irritating pulsation that is only marginally saved by the solos from the clavinet, fuglehorn and bass clarinet. The instrument that sounds like a duck is also annoying.

Overall, Sextant is a decent album from jazz's most treasured keyboard player, making it phenomenal on ordinary terms. But it is still not quite as good as the albums that surround it, mainly because 'Hornets' loses the listener about halfway through. If the final track was shorter and there was an extra 10-minuter, maybe something synthy like 'Rain Dance', this album would be a masterpiece. Instead, it is just a really great fusion album. It isn't so adventurous musically, but it is probably one of the most adventurous albums ever in terms of instruments.

thehallway | 4/5 |

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