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Reading Kevin Fellezs's Birds Of Fire, about the birth of fusion music, opened up a few new portals for me, not least of which was a previously undiscovered trove of Herbie Hancock recordings.

Crossings is the first of these, and having listened to it now several times I wonder that I'd previously overlooked it, it's so breathtakingly good, and not a million miles away from music I already have, though sufficiently different that it's not just more of the same.

Sleeping Giant opens with drums reminiscent of Joni Mitchell's The Jungle Line, but shifts through phases dominated by piano, trumpet and soprano sax, with transitions provided by the synths, at times heavily funky, but constantly restless, with the tempo and texture never settling down. The muted horn itself is reminiscent of Miles.

Quasar begins with some thunderous piano chords, though overall the piece is gentle, notwithstanding the turbulent flute (well, it is the 70s!) and horn.

Water Torture is the most atmospheric piece, with the flute and horn now ethereal, complemented by the synths. The groove anticipates Headhunters somewhat.

Upon giving this a listen once I immediately ordered Sextant, so enthused was I. There's a little bit of a feeling that what Hancock was doing at the time was a logical extension of what Miles began with Filles De Kilimanjaro and which developed through In A Silent Way and on to Get Up With It, though there's nothing of the weirdness of On The Corner. Instead we have the experimentation with the synths that at the time would have put this at the leading edge technologically. According to Fellezs, at the time audiences found difficulty in accepting what Hancock was doing. Listening to it now it feels both still fresh but also somehow familiar. Maybe now people are ready.
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on 29 September 2006
It seems to have taken years and years for the world to catch up with what the Mwandishi group achieved musically in their short window of creative genius during the late 60s/early 70s. Many people feel that they reached their pinnacle with this 1971 masterpiece, Crossings.

There can be little doubt that pick of the three tracks on offer here is Hancock's only composition, Sleeping Giant. After this never-bettered 25 minute epic, about which I can't say anything you won't already know, the writing duties are passed onto reedman Bennie Maupin, who dazzles us with the deeply unsettling Quasar, and then harmonically stunning Water Torture.

The simple reason for this being the greatest Herbie Hancock album of them all is that if you were ever looking for the career of the great man condensed down into one CD, you would have to choose Crossings. This album contains nods to his own Blue Note past(his work with Wayne Shorter in particular) and points toward his future in fusion, funk and popular music.

For those who are unfamiliar with any of Herbie's other albums- avoid this for just now. But if you are looking for music that dazzles, captivates, challenges and inspires its listener, then look no further.
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on 28 January 2015
To those who see jazz as an African-American art form, Herbie Hancock is often considered the Miles Davis of his generation due to his status as a stylistic chameleon. Despite remaining a jazz pianist, in later years he played a part in launching funk (mid-1970s), disco (late-1970s), hip-hop (early 1980s) and rap musics, and, although not as dissolute a character as Davis ('the dark prince') was, he nearly became a casualty of the lifestyles that went with those commercial music movements despite his devotion to his family and (apparently) to Buddhism. Before becoming a funk star, however, and after several years as a tuxedoed jazz pianist of the 1960s, Hancock for a few years led the most interesting, as well as "far out", band of his career. This was a self-consciously "black power" band that focused on their African ancestry as a source of pride. This was reflected by the band's adoption of Swahili names, "Mchezaji" (Player), "Pep Mtoto" (Spirit Child), "Mwile" (Body of Good Health), "Mganga" (Doctor of Advice) and "Mwandishi" (Writer/Composer); the latter being the name Hancock adopted. This band was devoted to clean living (hence the St. Augustine as a pinnacle of civilisation sleeve picture) and turning black music into a high art. Their self-titled debut featured three lengthy suite type tracks, which presented jazz almost like some form of African chamber music with a will-o-the-wisp spirit to it; their third, "Sextant", focused on the idea of building pieces around a single note or riff (the idea some jazz musicians, beginning with that nutter Davis, had at the time to reflect the influence of rock music) but using electronica and odd-time signature beats to create a sense of structure. In between these two polarities came "Crossings", which is probably the most atmospheric of the three. This was the first to use synths/electronica (contributed by a white guest, Patrick Gleeson) as well as drum patterns that pointed in the direction of a simple rock beat, but retained the same suite-like sensibility of the debut. "Sleeping Giant", which takes up the first half of the album, is a great example here, going through several different phases while retaining the interest before, somewhat inappropriately, ending with a bit of a rave-up jam. The two tracks taking up the second half of the album, "Quasar" and "Water Torture" (both penned by the clarinettist in the band), are less effective as suites but retain the album's distinctive style of mixing African-American style jazz with synthesiser sounds one might associate more with acts like Tangerine Dream. Each of the three Mwandishi albums are different from each other and also different from almost anything else; that is their appeal, and it represented, to this music listener anyway, the most interesting thing Hancock ever did, even if it is still more enjoyable for me to hear him jamming on Cantaloupe Island (his early sixties hit) or some such number with Metheny/Holland/DeJohnette in a very different style of fusion band many years later.
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on 7 January 2009
I'll keep it short as other reviewers have done a good job of summing this album up, but ... being someone who was mostly into stuff from Herbie's Headhunters period I wasn't sure what to expect from this album. To say it is quite different is an understatement, but, this album, along with Mwandishi, has a lot to offer.

Listening to this album really is like travelling through a vast expanse and there is a real sense of space and atmosphere. Although a bit too 'free' for some there are moments of melody and structure but they soon drift into something else entirely.

Rather than structured tunes think of this album more as a musical narrative to some untold galactic tale.
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on 23 July 2014
This album is fantastic yes it only contains 3 songs but they are marvellous songs one is 24 minutes long and is extremely fun to listen to there is lots happening specially in the percussion side of things and Herbie plonks and plinks his synthsisers and pianos masterfully it is very brilliant album. Warning though Water Torture is called Water torture for a reason it is quite hard to listen to and feel comfortable for some reason
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VINE VOICEon 8 October 2003
This was first out on vinyl in 1972. Very jazz/rock and of its time. Very electronic. It is also, however, very, very good.
The opening Sleeping Giant is a 25 minute meandering, cosmic journey.
It opens withy just percussion and a few noodlings from the Moog Synthesiser until bass and Herbies electric piano add to take off. Buster Williams bass lines are always an interesting counterpoint to the flight. It is not until after some 8 minutes that we hear from the horn section in a slow, spiritual theme that then leads into a funkier groove with alien trombone speak from Julian Priester leading into a faster repetitive riff groove, in Soft Machine mode. It slows down again before Herbie lays it on big slowing into Eddie Henderson's slow trumpet theme (sounding like Nucleus' Elastic Rock - Torrid Zone, written earlier) opening up for Benny Maupins spaced-out saxophone musings. An great trip man.
Track 2 Quasar inhabits a narrower region in this galaxy. Eerie squalls from the horns drift above the Moog wind on some uncharted star trek. Maupins flute flight and Henderson's trippy trumpet carries us on over serious rumbligs of spatial anomilies and worm holes. We are left adrift, lost in space.
The third and final track is Water Torture. Again its Moog and percussion starting this unnerving swim through fluidic space. There is a steady drip like pulse to the proceedings (Soft Machine 5 - Drop). Slinky/slimey/oosy main theme floats by some bombastic, electric space fish. I hear the influence of Hendrix's 1983, A Merman I Shall Turn To Be....... More and more sea-wraiths come to gawp and gnaw. A ghostly choir of female electra fishies almost inunciates a warning. We are close to journeys end now as we slowly go to the big sleep in a nice resting place.
As the sleeve notes say "the spiritual/sensual 'space' grooves of the music and the spiral of rhythms swirling within" just about sums it up.
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on 26 October 2015
Yes, not what I was expecting but this is haunting, sophisticated stuff.....and no less enjoyable because of that. Suggest you sample before you buy as it is not everybody's taste but if you do give it a go, you'll not be disappointed.
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on 7 February 2013
don't expect any songs that you'll be able to whistle, just play it with the headphones on, and your eyes shut.
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on 5 February 2015
Mood Jazz at its best, Herbie Hancock takes an exotic journey through his African roots.
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on 12 August 2014
A nice album. Listen to it and re-assess your opinions of the man who brought us all that spew inducing, dated, 'do it for the money' commercial dross back in the late 20th century. This isn't spewy.

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