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Last Call Artist Spotlight: Herbie Hancock

Nov 2, 2011

As one of the most significant jazz pianists of the history of the genre, Herbie Hancock's contributions to music over 50 plus years of activity as a musician are nothing less than remarkable.  Born in 1940,  Hancock made history as a member of the Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s.  Hancock was also one of the most in-demand pianists of the decade. Important contributions to the birth of jazz-rock in the In A Silent Way/Bitches Brew sessions followed. The 1970s saw Hancock leading an artistically brilliant if underrecognized ensemble of musicians who explored the frontiers of jazz music.   Last Call has featured his early 70's recording "Mwandishi" on many occasions and for your reading pleasure we bring a review of it  from our archives:


Herbie Hancock's album, Mwandishi, is one of the foremost Fusion Jazz records ever made. Mwandishi is a musical experience of melodic, transcendent post-bop impressionism. The record was the debut recording of the legendary Herbie Hancock Mwandishi Sextet, legendary because of their fearless exploration of the transcendent possibilities of music, and named "Mwandishi" after the Swahili name its leader, Herbie Hancock, had taken.
Herbie's bandmates had also taken Swahili names. The band consisted of Mwandishi/Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes piano; Mchezaji/Buster Williams on bass; Jabali/Billy Hart on drums; Mganga/Eddie Henderson on trumpet; Mwile/Benny Maupin on bass clarinet/alto flute; and Pepo Mtoto/Julian Priester on trombone. Special guests included Ndugu/Leon Chancler on drums; percussion, Jose "Cepito" Areas on congas, timbales on "Ostinato"; and Ron Montrose on guitar on "Ostinato".
Featured tracks include "Ostinato (Suite for Angela)", a performance based on a repeating riff which is thoroughly explored by the percussion and horn section of the band; "You?ll Know When You Get There", an impressionistic Herbie Hancock piece featuring a probing trumpet solo by Eddie Henderson; and "Wandering Spirit Song", a lengthy Julian Preister composition. Here the trombonist joins the band in a musical experience of transcendent beauty and depth, almost beyond words, a taste of the collective spirit that powered the Sextet in the studio as well as on stage. "Wandering Spirit Song" is a perfect example of the possibilities of controlled freebop impressionism & a magnificent demonstration of the creation & release of tension. The tune's crescendo at approximately 14 minutes is a whirlwind of sound that can transport a listener's attention beyond space & time.
Herbie said of the band in June 1971 shortly after the Mwandishi record was released, "My current band has hit a point where we are really turning out some great group music.One night in Chicago this band gave me the greatest musical experience in my life. We all just played beyond ourselves. I know how well each man can play, and we all played better. It was a spiritual revelation. I think music is supposed to give you an experience so that you can transport yourself from wherever you are, from that whole physical contact with the world, and make you maybe lose a little bit of that so that you can gain a little more consciousness,"inner" consciousness. And I think it would be impossible for most of my early music to do that".(Quote from "Herbie Hancock: Music From On High and Other Riffs"-Boston After Dark, June 8, 1971-interviewer Bob Blumenthal).