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Herbie Hancock - Mwandishi CD (album) cover


Herbie Hancock


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.10 | 81 ratings

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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.

Easy Money | 4/5 |


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