Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Herbie Hancock
Sextant


Released 1973 on Columbia
Reviewed by Moon Cat, 05/07/2001ce


The Archdrude's recent mega review of Miles Davis' funk freak out period inspired me to scamper to my collection to see if I could find anything that was worthy of comparison to those seeking the deeper shades of the groove out there. And lo, after much jiggery pokery (don't ask!) I found myself drawn above all to Herbie Hancock's Sextant.
I am a long time admirer of Mr Hancock, from his more 'conventional' early jazz forays such as Takin' Off and Maiden Voyage to his 80's forward thinking proto electro, probably best exemplified by the hit Rockit, which went a long way to establishing black urban dance music on the pasty white boy aenemiathon that was the MTV of the day.
However it transpires that Herbie was picking up a few tricks from his long time band leader Miles Davis when working with the Dark Magus on such milestones (ouch!) as Bitches Brew in the early 70's. In short, Herbie was looking to go a little further "out there".

Herbie Hancock had always embraced new technology and did so when synthesisers came onto the scene to add to his more trad keyboards. The utlelization of these "new sounds" would find perhaps it's most appreciative audience in the full on funk workouts of Headhunters and Thrust as well as later albums.
However, in 1973 Herbie pushed the envelope a little further using what would become known as his Mwandishi group (inspired by Swahili names used by the band in an almost proto Wu-Tang stylee!).
The Mwandishi group combined the trad brass instruments of jazz,(sax, trombones, trumpets) with more eclectic choices of intrumentation such as fuzz basses, clavinets, synths and so on.
The Mwandishi group had made an eponymous album in 1971 and Crossings in 1972, each one mixing jazz improv with funk bass grooves, some afro-rythmns and synths becoming more prominent. Something was brewing, and as Herbie was working on Miles Davis' On The Corner album, his own musi was getting more and more stretched.

Sextant (1973) is perhaps the best example of this experimental side to Herbie Hancock. Three tracks in all, each one longer and freaker than its predecessor.
The opener Rain Dance features jazz parping over a stop start mood that contains elements of early electronica that might today be described as ambient;- kind of like Tangerine Dream if they were a space-funk band mixed with Pomme Fritz era Orb. Certainly, the sounds within stand up to today's stuff. The instruments kind of sway around each other...little solo pieces set off by electronic bubblings and spurglings.

Hidden Shadows follows and the keyboard and brass solos are locked down by a steady bass-bubble groove. Hidden Shadows is in a way almost a taster for the 19:35 mins epic of wobblement that is Hornets. Again...a mantra like bass funk line keeps things together as keyboards and ARP synths jostle for space admist the often humourous intrusions of clavinet and kazoo's (imitating the hornet of the title). The percussion keeps you IN there as the primitive synths and clavinets work their way around the afro-funk groove. To keep you on your toes even Hawkindesque synth gurgles suddenly spiral out the speakers, only to meat a trumpet head on. Its pretty wild stuff. Just as you are in danger of a nose bleed, the drums roll down and a supremley squadgy bass brings it all back as a clavinet buzzes around it. Baby, my brain been on spin cycle!

It's interesting to note that Sextant suffered in the same way as Miles' "difficult" stuff from a lack of favourable response from jazz purists and sold poorly at the time. To which I say "ARSE!"

However now it is at least recognised as a pioneering album in its use of ambience and electronics, as well as in its combined use of afro-funk ryhthmns and jazz improvisation. (also recognised as a mighty fine piece of lock down head fuckery...which is nice)

If you are intruiged by the sounds within Dark Magus etc. and interested in early electronic music outside the more often quoted boundaries of TD and Kraftwerk et al, Sextant is a pretty groovy place to spend some time!


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