Herbie Hancock did an awful lot of listening when he was working with Miles Davis. Prior to joining him he was a post-bop pianist with a steadily emerging voice of his own, but by the time he left he was ready to take on the world.
'Mwandishi' isn't so much an album as it is a manifesto setting out the case for a form of jazz-rock fusion not reliant upon facile but ultimately empty virtuosity. To catch an earful of `Ostinato (Suite for Angela)' is to learn this in a big way. The very momentum of the music is a collective effort. On bass clarinet Bennie Maupin is the supreme colourist, while Hancock coaxes something out of an electric piano which couldn't be further from cocktail lounge tinkling.
`You'll Know When You Get There' is by contrast quite pastoral. This time trombonist Julian Priester's the colourist before Eddie Henderson on trumpet proves it's possible to do that desolate, wandering spirit thing that Davis had down without sounding like the man himself. Bassist Buster Williams deserves credit too for making so much of broken time and rhythmic suspensions.
The whole shouldn't work but it does, and to the extent that this is one of the most rewarding albums from fusion's late 1960s / early 1970s heyday.
While this is far from being accessible - either to fans of Herbie Hancock's early "pure jazz" work or to fans of his later funk and electro output - it stands up as one of the strongest albums he ever recorded. Frequently overlooked as a pioneer, Hancock was (and still is) one of the most original and influencial musicians of 20th century music. "Mwandishi" was the follow up to "Fat Alberta Rotunda", but the two albums really couldn't be more different. Here, he drops the catchy, swingin'-sixties sound he helped create for a more introvert and introspective sound, based largely on experimentation and freestyle. This sound carried on through "Crossings" into "Sextant" (which is about as far out as anyone has ever dared go). Behind this, however, is a clarity of sound and purity of emotional input that is missing from most 20th century music - even jazz. While there is nothing catchy to speak of, and one could barely begin to describe this music in comprehensible terms or hum any melody from it if asked to, the experience of this album truly speaks for itself. It is an emotional journey, one that still sounds unique, sensual and entirely enjoyable if approached with an open mind and an open ear.
Back in time a little for part 3 of the Discovering Herbie Hancock's 70s Grooves project, following a knockout listening of Sextant, and before that Crossings. Like both, it has the feel of the music on Miles's Bitches Brew sessions.
After a dream-like intro, Mwandishi (Hancock's "African name") opens with Ostinato laying down exactly what it says, accompanied by hypnotic percussion. This is overlaid at first with the trumpet, followed by the Fender Rhodes and then Bennie Maupin's bass clarinet, familiar from Bitches. You'll Know When You Get There is a flute-led fantasy, the mystique emphasised by the celeste-like tinkling of the Fender Rhodes. And Julian Priester's long, perambulating Wandering Spirit is well-named, a mostly laid back cruise with some semi-free sections, mostly gentle, sometimes tending to a rougher texture without seriously rocking the boat.
Finding this music, thanks to Kevin Fellezs's Birds Of Fire, about the formation of fusion music, has been a revelation. Makes you wonder what else is out there to rediscover.
Made up of three very different songs, “Obstinate” which is very rhythmic, a bit of an Africa influence, “You’ll know when..” a pretty melody, with a funky bass riff (would not have looked out of place on Miles Davis “Filles De Kilimanjaro” or “In a Silent way”). The final track “Wandering..” is written by Herbie’s trombone player Julian Priester, but does lumber on a bit, without really arriving anywhere. So on the whole quite an accessible record with jagged edges smooth right down.