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Herbie Hancock

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Herbie Hancock Mwandishi album cover
4.12 | 87 ratings | 9 reviews | 36% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 1971

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Ostinato (Suite for Angela) (13:10)
2. You'll Know When You Get There (10:22)
3. Wandering Spirirt Song (21:26)

Total Time 44:50

Line-up / Musicians

- Herbie Hancock / Fender Rhodes electric piano, arrangements

- Eddie Henderson " Mganga" / trumpet, flugelhorn
- Bennie Maupin "Mwile" / bass clarinet, alto flute, piccolo
- Julian Priester "Pepo Mtoto" / tenor & bass trombones
- Buster Williams "Mchezaji" / bass
- Billy Hart "Jabali" / drums
- Leon Chancler "'Ndugu" / drums, percussion
- Ronnie Montrose / guitar (1)
- Jose Cepito Areas / congas & timbales (1)

Releases information

Artwork: Bonnie Schiffman and Robin Mitchell

LP Warner Bros. Records ‎- WS 1898 (1971, US)

CD Warner Jazz ‎- 9362-47541-2 (2000, Europe) Remastered (?)

Thanks to clarke2001 for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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HERBIE HANCOCK Mwandishi ratings distribution

(87 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(36%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(48%)
Good, but non-essential (13%)
Collectors/fans only (2%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

HERBIE HANCOCK Mwandishi reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars 4.5 stars really!!!!

Throughout the 60's Miles Davis's piano spot was shared by three famous names who would alternate as the decade unravelled. Between the Austrian-born Joe Zawinul (ex-Canonball Adderley and future Weather Report) , the Hispanic Puerto-Rican (I think) Chick Corea (future Return To Forever) and the Afro-American Herbie Hancock (future Mwandishi & Head Hunters), the piano stool changed regularly of owners but also the instrument it was installed in front of? Indeed all three masters that would move on in the trail of their mentor Miles, had the chances to play both on the acoustic piano and the electric one, thanks to "the man with the horn". At this time, Hancock was still living in Frisco and this city will be the base of the Mwandishi group, and this extraordinary communion of six musician will lead him to Buddhism after its break-up.

After his FAR album, Hancock had to move on and keeping only wind-blower Joe Henderson and bassist Buster Williams; he rebuilt his group, one that we shall call Mwandishi. Mwandishi means "composer" in Swahili and Herbie named himself for his African roots (through working on his former drummer Kuumba-Toudie-Heath's album Kawaida), and chose to name all of the members of his new group with similar Swahili names, whether of African descendance or not. John "Mahavishnu" McLaughlin and Carlos "Devadip" Santana were not doing much different with their Indian-derived nicknames. So the musicologists have referred to the albums done by this line-up as the Mwandishi group, which will suit me fine for the string of reviews I write regarding HH's 70's discography.

So, apart from "Mchezaji" Williams and "Mganga" Henderson, the group now integrates another wind-blower Benny "Mwile" Maupin, drummer Billy "Jabali" Hart and trombonist Julian "Mtonto" Priester; plus of course Mwandishi himself. Sporting quite a musical change compared to FAR, HH was morphing physically himself, growing an Afro hairdo that was probably not yet fully grown to maximum size, which would explain this strange white and not-so-white artwork, a deformation of a picture of HH looking at himself in a mirror; This is his second album for the WB label , and among some guests are two Santana alumni, Chepito Areas and Leon Chancler as well as the big surprise: future metal axeman Ronnie Montrose on guitar. Only three tracks to fill an album holding some 44 minutes, that's the usual Yes or Miles Davis norms of the time, and Herbie will hold that rhythm for the Mwandishi three albums the present, (Crossing and Sextant).

The self explanatory Ostinato is an enthralling riff that's repeated over 13-min (and dedicated to Angela Davis, the Human/Civil rights activists), constantly morphing, but this is a slow process. We get Maupin's great bass clarinet laying out carpets of horns, after having developed the 15/4 groove, then leaving it to other instruments and underlining it for the remainder of the track. BTW, for the metalheads, Montrose's guitar is very discreet, so don't expect some fiery solos or chunky riffs. .The much quieter You'll Know When You' Get There is more contemplative, gradually pulling itself out of its meditative state and working its way to a mid-tempo before disappearing all a sudden. This track's theme originated from an Eastern Airlines commercial and Williams' bass line is in 15/4. Hancock's incredible electric piano comes from a run-down Rhodes, played through a hand-played Echoplex pedal, while playing lead with the other.

Wandering Spirit is fills the flipside and starts on a haunting drone that slowly climbs the river and reaching the plains of madness about halfway through the track (this is of course the dissonant passage), but drawing on an irresistible instinctive freedom while keeping track of their mate's actions. Hancock will also revolutionize the jazz world by taking control of the mixing desk, something then-unheard at the time, thus showing the way to other black artistes like Stevie Wonder in Music Of My Mind.

A splendid album Mwandishi is the first of a perfect trilogy, and the only thing missing is probably a cool artwork as Crossings and Sextant have. But outside of this detail, Mwandishi is brilliant and the perfect introduction (or first step) to the more supersonic Crossings and the cosmic Sextant. This album got shot down by the specialized press and didn't sell in quantity, but the group survived by playing numerous concerts, thus getting even tighter live than in the studio. Outstanding stuff and there is better still to come.

Review by Easy Money
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Easily his most progressive emsemble, Herbie Hancock's Sextet released three amazing albums in the early 70s. Mwandishi was their first, and in a lot of ways it shows. This is actually a very good record, but every time I listen to it I always end up comparing it to Crossings, The Sextet's much better follow up. Still, if you like early 70s psychedelic jazz fusion that mixes complex arrangements with free-range jam sessions, then you can't go wrong with this one.

Side one opens with Ostinato, a pulsing odd-metered groove number that recalls Miles' Ife or On the Corner. I always love the way The Sextet would often double bass lines with the bass clarinet, such a mysterious sound that so belongs to that time period. Herbie turns in an amazing electric piano solo that slowly builds to an insanely aggressive and intense peak. Hancock is truly the master at building a harmonically modulating solo on top of a static harmonic base. Bennie Maupin follows with his always creepy, almost humorous lurking bass clarinet. His genius always adds so much to The Sextet's sound.

The meditative and mysterious You'll Know When You Get There closes out side one. It opens with The Sextet's brilliant mini-orchestral horn lines and voicings that sound like 20th century concert hall ensembles and then fades into quiet spare solos wrapped in spaced out electronic keyboard sounds. This is a brilliant piece, very modern and futuristic.

Side two is taken up with Julian Priester's Wandering Spirit Song. It too opens with the Sextet's trademark orchestrations framed by Herbie's shimmering electric piano and fades into a brilliant spare and quiet solo by Priester. Unfortunately, after this the song meanders a bit during a group improvisation that sounds a bit disjointed and just gets boring after a while. Side two is OK, it just lacks focus and cohesion sometimes.

So what is it that makes the follow up album Crossings better than Mwandishi. A lot of it is in the production, both are heavy with effects and psychedelic processing, but on Crossings the effects are used carefully to enhance the flow of the compositions, while on Mwandishi the effects seem more random and gratuitous. Also, Mwandishi takes more of a traditional approach to soloing in that the soloists are usually only accompanied by bass, piano and drums, while on Crossings the band opens up more and acts more like a continuously evolving orchestra.

Mwandishi is a good album, but it is just the start of what will become fully realized on Crossings.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars Some interesting information in the liner notes for this album. I didn't know that Herbie was a child prodigy, playing Mozart as an eleven year old with the CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ! Not that there's been any question about his talent or progressive ideas."The group that made this album would stay together for four years, laying down a unique textural sophistication of suavely blended horns and fluid rhythms behind Hancock's fluid inner and outer space improvisations on electric keyboards."Mwandishi" meaning "composer" in Swahili, was also Herbie's adopted name, a self given appellation...". It was the start of a new decade (1970) and this album marked a new direction musically for Hancock.

"Ostinato (Suite For Angela)" was a tribute to political activist Angela Davis. I love this track, it's so infectious. I like the way it builds until they're jamming with passion and i'm bopping around. So much energy here. Herbie says this about this song: "Having fifteen beats to a bar automatically sets up a little tension". I like when the electric piano takes the lead 5 minutes in. Just an amazing track !

"You'll Know When You Get There" is a tough one for me. I do like the flute before 6 minutes as it builds. It settles back quickly though. This building and releasing happens once more. Just not an interesting song at all for me. I pride myself in listening carefully to music and appreciating the subtle things but this is beyond me. The same could be said for the 21 1/2 minute closer "Wandering Spirit Song", except for about 6 minutes where we get an excellent experimental and avant-garde soundscpae. The rest though is so laid back and meandering.

I do prefer "Crossings" and "Sextant" to this one but this has really grown on me. A more difficult album to digest i'd say, but it's well worth the patience.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Opening album of great Hancock "Mwandishi" trilogy.

I met many music fans who know Hancock by his hip-hop or pop-jazz works from last decade and many of them have no idea that some time ago his music was very different.

To be honest, I like his post-bop works from late sixties as well. But Mwandishi Trilogy is his absolute peak of progressive fusion till now. So, with this album newcomers should be afraid not to be killed by rap singing, hip-hop rhythms or Christina Aguilera duet ( that happened in Hancock one of last albums, and believe me, this song was still absolutely the best on all album!), but to be involved in mid-tempo psychedelic meditation with complex jazzy arrangements.

Yes, no mistake, interesting el. piano, very jazzy bass line and drumming plus brass section. Dreamy and just slightly structuresed sound has many free jazz elements as well. And as spices all the air is filled with ambient electronic sound effects!

So, if you don't believe that Hancock could be so progressive, just listen! His two later Trilogy albums are both better balanced and has firmer structure, but this one is great psychedelic free-jazz-fusion work. If you are searching for very unusual jazz fusion work and are not afraid of free structure, loose form and dose of psychedelia, you are welcome!

Review by friso
3 stars Herbie Hancock - Mwandishi (1971)

Progressive fusion/free jazz

I really liked most of the Crossing album (followup of this first Mwandishi period album) and I wanted to try more music of the progressive Hancock on Warner Bros period.

On this first record of this new phase of Herbie Hancock there's some heavy music. The first track, Ostinato (Suite for Angela), has one repetitive main bass line in a very awkward time signature. The continuation of this theme gives an hypnotic atmosphere. Right in the beginning we hear a very heavy low brass solo with some frantic tones. After a while the band settles the sound and the solo's begin. All solo's are played very well with a lot of dynamics. The solo's are part of the progressive sound, they are daring in both harmonics and intelligent rhythms. Though this track is my favourite of the album, 13 minutes are a bit too much of exploration of one single theme.

You'll Know When You Get There is less structured and has some freejazz moments of wild soloing. The atmosphere is highly abstract and the composition is chaotic. I think the atmosphere is the main point of concern of this track. On side two Wandering Spirit Song continues the style of the second track of the album with freejazz/progressive jazz and some fusion parts, this times seemingly without any clear directions. Like it was completely improvised around a few ideas.

Conclusion. Though the first track is highly rewarding, the other parts of the album slip like sand through my fingers. Where to listen to? Where is this music going? What does this band try to show? Maybe my listening attitude is not developed enough to enjoy this free interpretation of the after be-bob genre with lot's of experimentation, but this should not influence my rating of this album. This is in a way really good music, but this isn't an excellent addition to most of our prog rock music collection. This is for true jazz fanatics, who don't care about the loss of structure in music. This might also appeal to people who like avant-garde, because of it's abstract atmospheres. So.. three stars. This might be very worthwhile if you invest enough time to get into the atmosphere of the music.

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Mwandishi is the first in a series of three albums that form the pinnacle of fusion in the 70's for me. There are few other bands that managed to combine their dazzling musical talent with such an innovative force, such deep atmospherics and emotive improvisations. Mwandishi is the most 'traditional' (very relative here) of the three albums and picks up the fusion trail where Miles Davis had left it on Bitches Brew.

The album takes its 'progressive' approach very literally, starting fairly accessibly and ending with totally abstract fusion. The first track we get is the catchy Ostinato, the most straightforward and traditional track, traditional meaning that it is an improvised jam around a repeated bass line. The main 'riff' is remarkable for having such an odd metre while still being very groovy. It's quite entrancing but a bit too lengthy to keep my attention for 13 minutes.

The album takes another leap forward with the looser and more atmospheric improvisation of You'll Know When You Get There. Compared to the opener, the melodies have become slower and vaguer, which obviously makes them more difficult to hang on to and which makes the music shift from melodic to abstract. It's a dreamy and evocative piece of music and my favourite of the album. Sure recommended to fans of Davis' In A Silent Way and the early Weather Report albums.

The progressive journey ends with the very abstract free-jazz of Wandering Spirit Song, a dazzling piece of music that sets your spirit really wandering indeed. There are few repetitions and melodies which makes it almost impossible to grasp, but somehow I love getting lost in this music that makes my analytic mind fail and allows my intuition to take over and drift along with the spontaneous evolution of the music.

The best Hancock work was still to come, but Mwandishi is sure an interesting place to start exploring his progressive fusion.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars An album of brave, masterful performances, production, and mutually supportive collaboration--the first in a series of albums produced over the course of three years in which experimental techniques in collaboration, song structure, and sound manipulation were radically explored. Even the discordant, unstructured 'free jazz' parts of "Wandering Spirit Song" are eminently listenable, enjoyable, even add to the spiritual 'letting go' space and process that the band has lulled you into by that time. Though some people choose to begin this period of Herbie's creativity with the 1969 album Fat Albert's Rotunda because it marked his first release under his new Warner Brothers label after some years in the Blue Note stable, I choose to begin with this album due to the fact that it's the first appearance of the lineup of musicians that he played with over the next five years--his so-called "sextet."

1. "Ostinato (for Angela)" (13:10) starts the album off with an incredibly infectious groove and many fascinating production effects that introduce the listener to the new Herbie: Engineer and Producer. Herbie's fender playing is the glue over which his band mates perform highly entertaining, often unusual solos, but these are never obtrusive or outside or above the thread and weave of the group's mix (a feat due, in part, to the recording engineering). The use of two drummers (at times flanged!) and along with a percussionist is, to my ears, highly entertaining and enjoyable. Eddie Henderson's lead trumpet play is great, as is Bennie Maupin's bass clarinet, but it's Herbie's keyboard work that I find most engaging--whether it's in the lead or support role. Again, however, it's the effects used on the instruments and track orientations that make the sound of this song so ground-breaking and fascinating. (23/25)

2. "You'll Know When You Get There" (10:15) is a beautiful piece of kind of ambient jazz in which echo and space, slow tempo, and subtlety are kings for the day. It's easy to float off and let go of this one, but so worth paying attention if you can/when you do. The first half is almost a Eddie Henderson solo but then the music congeals again in a truly beautiful and intricate weave in the fifth minute. Great bass play from Buster Williams and awesome interplay of sometimes-conflicting or tension-building melodies by Herbie, Bennie, and others. Truly a masterpiece of experimental jazz music. (19/20)

3. "Wandering Spirit Song" (21:28) My favorite of this album of sublime music. This is for me a soundtrack for deep spiritual introspection and regeneration. Amazing things music can do! Definitely a masterpiece of music--offering the highest gifts to humans that other humans can give: transportation and transcendence. Kudos to Buster, Herbie, and (37/40)

A/five stars; a masterpiece of experimental jazz fusion and, by inclusion, a milestone in progressive rock music.

Review by stefro
5 stars When one speaks of Fusion, a select group instantly spring to minds. Miles Davis, Ian Carr & Nucleus, Return To Forever, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham, and of course, Herbie Hancock. A beautifully-balanced pianist with exceptional talent, Hancock started issuing records around the same time as The Beatles(his first was 1962's 'Takin' Off') whilst also playing with the likes of Miles Davis and Chick Corea as a sideman and soloist. His first album of note was the coolly atonal 'Maiden Voyage', issued by Blue Note in 1965, but his first forays into fusion-style jazz appeared on 1968's funk-dipped 'Speak Like A Child'. From here on both the quality and experimental nature of Hancock's work began to increase, and the late-sixties transitional albums 'The Prisoner' and 'Fat Albert Rotunda' showcased some scintillating work from Hancock and his team. These last two albums blended spacey fusion histrionics and trad-jazz elements, the old melded with the new, yet were still rooted in the classical textures of the genre's past. As the sixties faded and the seventies began, however, Hancock would unveil 'Mwandishi', his first first full-blown fusion epic. The opening act of a trilogy of classic Hancock fusion albums, 1970's 'Mwandishi' is arguably the pick of the three, a visceral, highly-charged and exhilarating sonic odyssey that takes the listener deep into the musical galaxy of jazz-fusion. This journey is continued on the equally-as- brilliant 'Crossings'(1971) and also on the densely-concocted 'Sextant', yet the failure of the latter would see Hancock quickly abandon his atmospheric fusion style in favour of straight-up jazz-funk, issuing the seminal 1973 album 'Head Hunters', an album that would provide Hancock's breakthrough into the international musical arena. However, despite the lack of commercial success gleaned by 'Sextant' - a strange and difficult album - the fusion -era albums of Herbie Hancock have lasted the years well, still sounding as fresh and vital as they did during the early-seventies. All three are highly-recommended to those wishing to explore jazz-rock, though in this writer's mind 'Mwandishi' is the real masterpiece. Enjoy.
Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars The 60s was a busy time for child prodigy HERBIE HANCOCK. After getting his feet wet in the jazz world with Donald Byrd, it took him no time at all to be noticed by the greatest bigwigs in the industry. Miles Davis, arguably one of the greatest jazz talents ever to have roamed the planet, snatched HANCOCK up at the tender age of 23 and placed him as a major part of his Second Great Quintet. HANCOCK remained with Davis throughout the decade and although he was catering to Davis' every musical whim, was carefully taking cues in many ways and soaking in his masterful tutelage like a sponge. Despite having released a great number of albums during his stint as keyboardist-in-chief on such classic albums ranging from "Seven Steps To Heaven" all the way to "In A Silent Way," HANCOCK himself hadn't really come of age on his own until he got to his "Fat Albert Rotunda" album where he seemed to have found his inner voice and took his own path down jazz-funk-fusion alley.

Despite having found his way, he hadn't quite found his identity, a plight that many African-Americans have faced across many the ages having no lineage records from where exactly their DNA had emerged but rather adapting to the strange new land in which they were brought generations ago. Around the late 60s, HANCOCK was also coming of age as an individual after having conquered the musical arenas a decade prior. This is the period when he adopted a Swahili alter-ego named MWANDISHI, a concept that blossomed like African violets after a series of gentle nourishing rain showers until the idea for a new musical direction became eminent. Once the great MWANDISHI was unleashed, there was no stopping him and no looking back. What became a new identity fruitfully gelled into an entire trilogy of musical innovation that to this very day remains some of HANCOCK's most mesmerizing and complex musical output of his entire career.

After shedding his "Watermelon Man" persona which he had worn since his debut "Takin' Off," HANCOCK changed gears from the Saturday morning cartoon subject matter of "Fat Albert Rotunda" and transmogrified into a deep contemplative form of spiritual jazz that took the listener along for the ride of HANCOCK's own inner journey into the unknown and beyond. However to pull this miraculous metamorphosis off convincingly HANCOCK reconfigured his entire band make-up with all new members with the only returning member Buster Williams donning the new persona Mchaezaji. Likewise, the new set of six musicians would also adopt names from their respective lineages. While most were of African descent, Nicaraguan conga and timbale member Jose Areas would become Chepito and the appearance by Ronnie Monstrose stayed in his already Euro-penned appellation.

The first album of the trilogy is logically titled MWANDISHI with an album cover of a self-reflecting (inner and outer) HANCOCK in chromatic aberration pondering the existential quandaries of the universe. The album contained three lengthy tracks that focused on free form collective improvisation that utilized extremely complex and unusual time signatures with a particular emphasis on HANCOCK's unique Fender Rhodes piano playing which continued the ties from the most experimental Miles Davis albums of the era, however despite the obvious ties to the world of Davis, HANCOCK makes MWANDISHI his own in every way, shape and irregularly laid out form. This would become a trend that would only magnify on the subsequent "Crossings" and "Sextant" albums. As HANCOCK himself stated "So much of Africa has been squeezed out of black America, and we're taking a look at ourselves and recognizing our heritage."

And with that emphasis on self-reflection, the very first track "Ostinato (Suite For Angela)" is dedicated to Angela Davis and provides the most percussive and easily digestible track on the album with a strong ostinato bass groove providing the backbone for a series of unusual time signature deviations. The track in its conga rich and percussively prominent domain delves into bizarre mixes of 15/4 meters followed by 4/4, 7/8 every other variation in, between and around. This is the only track to feature both Chepito and Ronnie Montrose on guitar. Despite the free form jams into extreme complexity, the track flows as smooth as silk. The second track "You'll Know When You Get There" is more of a divine heavenly journey into the ethers and into the clouds. While the track is over ten minutes in length, it is followed by the similarly sounding 21 plus minute "Wandering Spirit Song." Both tracks emphasize more free form approaches with less rhythmic structure and more ethereal floatiness. They display HANCOCK's mastery of extensive use of tension and release where the tensions build slowly as the instrumentation increases only to find resolution with HANCOCK's use of sustained synthesized chords. In some ways, this album reminds me of some of the post-rock of the 21st century in how it provides a blueprint for that style.

MWANDISHI was the album that proved HERBIE HANCOCK was one of the true originals in the entire jazz-fusion scene of the early 70s. The concepts, musical compositional approach and instrumentation were strange new amalgamations of musical creativity unheard before and carried out with the most free form precision outside of the alien world of Sun Ra. After hearing the more dynamic following albums "Crossings" and "Sextant" it may be hard to appreciate the genius of this first installment in the MWANDISHI trilogy in the context of its era, but it is not too difficult for the attentive listener to pick out the subtle details which makes the album stand out amongst the crowd of its day. While personally MWANDISHI may be my least favorite chapter in the trilogy, it is nevertheless an essential prerequisite for appreciating the long lasting jazz-fusion that HANCOCK would pump out that led to his more funkified "Headhunters" days. Not only a landmark of jazz-fusion history but an intricately gorgeous album in all its free form glory. The beauty of MWANDISHI is that it does not discard HANCOCK's past but rather incorporates the many chapters of his musical career and pushes them into entirely fresh musical arenas.

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