Herbie Hancock – Mwandishi. Warner Bros; 1971
Herbie Hancock – Crossings. Warner Bros; 1972
Herbie Hancock – Sextant. Columbia; 1973
On his opening triad of albums from the 1970s, renaissance jazzman Herbie Hancock mined the dark sonic corridors which he’d first unveiled with Miles Davis on the latter’s 1969 landmark, In a Silent Way. With an arsenal of keyboards, Hancock enlisted the crew of Buster Williams (bass), Billy Hart (drums), Julian Priester (trombone), and the ambidextrous duo of Eddie Henderson and Bennie Maupin on an assortment of brass and woodwinds. Each platter is split between three lengthy sketches in the sidelong/divided format.
Mwandishi is launched by the rhythmic flurry of “Ostinato (Suite for Angela)”, in which Hancock bubbles around one sinister bass figure – alternately manned by Williams, Priester and Maupin. “You’ll Know When You Get There” serves as a quiet release from the preceding tension, with the ambidextrous pair lacing flute and flugelhorn across the sedative breeze of Hancock’s Fender Rhodes. Overside, the mammoth “Wandering Spirit Song” drifts slowly into a cyclone, whereupon brass, drums and synthesizers collide like sharks against steamships for a most harrowing climax.
The sidelong action tops Crossings with the aptly-titled “Sleeping Giant”, whose quieter moments are mere respite to the percussive storms raging throughout. More enriching are the night-sky illuminations of “Quasar”, which drifts aglow in the Moog work of newly-enlisted synthesist Patrick Gleason. Rounding this set is “Water Torture”, an alarming misnomer for Hancock’s timely trip to the icy land of the Mellotron.
Hancock’s experiments in rhythm and sonority peaked with Sextant, a dizzying set which verged on freeform. “Rain Dance” shows the keyboard team besting their cosmic chemistry, with the ARP spurts of Gleason fizzing through the bubbly waters of Hancock. Pianos and Mellotron enmesh with the synthesizers on “Hidden Shadows”, a dark and frosty landscape beset by the hail of percussion. The endless bass-and-cymbal frame of “Hornets” gives pensive precision to the nimble swarm throughout; the woodwinds squeeze for time, but Hancock steamrolls with the smoke of the Rhodes and the fiery sizzle of the Hohner D-6 clavinet.
The evolution of Hancock across these last three albums drew the all-elusive future into the present tense of jazz.