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Herbie Hancock - Crossings CD (album) cover

CROSSINGS

Herbie Hancock

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.28 | 312 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars After leaving Blue Note Records in 1969, HERBIE HANCOCK was commissioned to compose the soundtrack for the Bill Cosby animated television special 'Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert' which allowed him to move beyond his primarily pure jazz realm of post- bop and modal jazz and find new ways to unleash his creative expressions with his former employer Miles Davis in the world of jazz- fusion. While Davis was creating impressionist surrealism with his adventures into the jazz-rock hybrid paradigm, HANCOCK on the other hand was lured into the possibilities of a funk-jazz fusion resulting from his admiration of Sly & The Family Stone. After signing on to Warner Bros. he would release his first fusion album 'Fat Albert Rotunda' in 1969 which would set the stage for his entire run through the 70s but after that album was released he got more ambitious as his interest in Sun Ra's avant-garde explorations started to enter the picture along with various strains of electronic music.

With 1971's 'Mwandishi' HANCOCK ventured into a complex trilogy of albums named after the first edition. On that album he employed the talents of bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart, and a trio of horn players: Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), and multi-reedist Bennie Maupin which despite resulting in a lackluster sales performance still managed to garner critical acclaim. For the second offering of the Mwandishi Trilogy, HANCOCK wanted to spruce it up a bit with extra doses of electronica. Patrick Gleeson was scheduled to audition for some key parts but HANCOCK was blown away by his uncanny command of the instrument and how he could make the music talk in ways he'd never experienced and thus Gleeson joined the band as the seventh member and appeared on the next two albums beginning with HANCOCK's tenth overall album in the canon called CROSSINGS.

In addition to the seven main members, there are additional performers with congas and chorus vocals. The opening track 'Sleeping Giant' was monumental in scope. The near 25 minute track opens in an eruption of tribal percussion as if a war dance were being performed in the distant deepest jungles of the Congo. This newest development displaysed HANCOCK's infatuation with the percussive explorations of Sun Ra's avant-garde jazz escapades that quietly fueled the underground jazz world of the 60s. While the percussive drive is completely outside the purview of the lockstep orthodoxies that the jazz world had settled into, the orgy of pummeling drums and congas juxtaposes the ancient traditional African rhythms alongside more sanctioned modern jazz styles. The track subtly introduces electronic counterpoints until it finally erupts in the fully fueled funk fusion that provides the main harmonic drive throughout the album.

'Sleeping Giant' signifies a contemplative spiritual journey of the African diaspora experience as displayed by the album cover art of Robert Springett who would continue producing eye catching cover art for HANCOCK for the rest of the 70s. The album is basically split between this lengthy track, originally as the entire side one on vinyl which was written by HANCOCK while the second side which contains the other two tracks were written by Maupin. Around the seven minute mark the percussion ceases and it becomes a spacier form of spiritual jazz with both modal styled keyboard tinkling but the funk bass wrests control of the formless fluttering about of the angularity and nudges the the rhythmic groove back into the a more structured flow as if playing tug-of-war with the horn section's desire to go fully freeform. Eventually the funk wins as it sounds more like the completely controlled funk fusion of the 'Fat Albert Rotunda' album. The track continues to drift in and out of funk and spacier airy fairy jazz until it reaches its conclusion.

The middle track 'Quasar' is by far the shortest of the three but still extending past the seven minute mark. A much more avant-jazz track, this one evokes the most 'out there' moments of Sun Ra's works such as 'Strange Strings' that eschew any known confines of tradition but the track slowly takes on more recognizable acoustic jazz characteristics with a plethora of freaky Moog sounds sputtering around like overdosing drug addicts at a party gone wrong tripping their brains out aimlessly about. Despite some of the moments of funk and fleeting moments of melody, 'Quasar' wins as the most surreal track on the album award as it evokes its namesake of a distant starlike extragalactic object with moments of clarity randomly emerging from the static. This is really a weird track as the talking trumpets seem to be communicating with the acoustic jazz bass and funk-tinged keyboards. The ambient backdrop keeps the track in a constant state of distant surreality.

The second longest track is the grand finale 'Water Torture' which rightfully begins with some sounds emulating flowing water and a rather erratic tribal beat as if a surprise attack is eminent. There is a lot of effort thrown into the intricately designed percussion as it casts a spell to paint the dots of the picture that the wind instruments and Moog sounds fill in with shades of colorful timbres and dynamics and even has moments of progressive big band fury. While it may not seem possible after the hypnotic unpredictability of 'Quasar,' this track of almost fourteen minutes evokes the ultimate psychedelic journey into the world of jazz where cohesion and complete breakdown drift in and out of sync. Once again, the adventurous Earthly detachment of Sun Ra's influence is on display however the moments of funk, fleeting melodies and playfulness of the timbres, rhythms and dynamics showcase HANCOCK's idiosyncratic journey into similar musical arenas but treads his own sliver of this avant-sector of the jazz- fusion world.

While the following 'Sextant' would take things into the even stranger and more complex world of the avant-garde, CROSSINGS as its name implies is the perfect crossroads of sort for the funk-jazz fusion affairs of the previous two albums and even the complete abandonment of the paradigm set even on the 'Mwandishi' album. CROSSINGS is really one of those albums that you simply have to experience to understand and not only experience once but many times in different moods and allow the various other-worldly effects to sink in. This is not an easy listening album to say the least as it entwines so many different music genres and twists them into new multi-faceted creations that sound like no other even within the Mwandishi Trilogy itself. Given the complexity of the music it would seem there may be some classical influences underlying its magnanimous ability to continue an almost imperceptible melodic flow to the album's lengthy run as if the melodies themselves were twisted until obfuscation darkened all but the fleeting few that were allowed to surface from their banishment into another dimension. Hauntingly beautiful, CROSSINGS was a major achievement that would only be topped by the 'Sextant' album that followed.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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