Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Herbie Hancock - Sextant

Herbie Hancock
Sextant


Released 1972 on Columbia / Legacy
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 15/01/2004ce


1 Rain Dance 9:16
2 Hidden Shadows 10:11
3 Hornets 19:35

Mwandishi Herbie Hancock - all sorts of electric keyboards
Mwile Bennie Maupin - soprano sax, bass clarinet, piccolo, etc.
Mganga Dr. Eddie Henderson - trumpet, flugelhorn
Pepo Julian Priester - trombones & cowbell
Mchezaji Buster Williams - electric & acoustic basses
Jabali Billy Hart - drum kit

with:
Dr. Patrick Gleason - ARP synthesizers
Buck Clarke - percussion


This is the album released right before Herbie's "jazz-funk fusion" commercial breakout "Headhunters." Structurally this album is in a similar vein, consisting of a few long funk workouts played by forward-thinking jazz musicians, only this is the more interesting record because they go WAY OUT THERE, far beyond the relatively tame dancefloor-pleasing arrangements found on "Headhunters."

In fact it's a major landmark in the development of "electronica" because I don't think anyone else was making this kind of cool electrofunk out of crazy analog synth loops all the way back in 1972. It seems to presage hip-hop and a lot of the "electro" sounds of the 1980's (including Prince's early records.) In fact, the sound of this one is so far ahead of its time that when I first heard this CD playing in a record store, I thought someone had done a hip new "trance techno" remix of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew"!

It's also very cosmic & spiritual for "electronic" music. On the album cover African shamans dance under a supernaturally large moon as mystical beasts stand beneath the pyramids (and continuing on the back cover the sun rises behind the head of Buddha as lotuses float beneath him.) Which is pretty much what the music sounds like. The "Mwandishi" band all took on Swahili names and I'm sure they were also eating lots of veggies and practicing yoga while making this music. They were seriously in to getting out there!


The tracks:

"Rain Dance" begins with sequenced & looped synth boinging, creating sounds like African percussion through purely electronic means. Then Mganga starts blowing trumpet riffs straight outta Miles Davis in the 1950's: more old school horns, a churning bass line (played on upright acoustic model), the synths start to vibe like crazy, it chills out for some grooving Fender Rhodes . . . that's just the first 3 minutes or so. It wanders on with different instruments coming to the fore and receding back into the spacefunk stew, which at times begins to sound like Sun Ra playing hip-hop (all it needs is the DJ scratch.) And a bit like the "electric jug" on 13th Floor Elevators albums, that opening pseudo-African percolator synth line is what holds it all together.

"Hidden Shadows" sounds like the cover of Funkadelic's "Cosmic Slop" album come to life. Combining blaxploidelic funk grooves with pinkfloydelic analog synth textures (including everyone's favorite, the Melotron,) this is where Space meets the Street.

"Hornets" is like booty-shakin' music by comparison, with a popping electric bass and driving beat. Starts with that opening hi-hat riff from "Shaft" (under a nice phazed effect), as the trumpet and other horns duel with the "Hum-a-zoo" (basically an electric kazoo)! The drums fly off the funk-rails into free jazz accents while a throbbing wah-bass and African shaker hold it all together. A multitude of funky and trippy electronic sounds parade through the mix. Twenty minutes of this could get to be too much, but fortunately that beat keeps you groovin' the whole time.

Conclusion:

This is the best Herbie Hancock "fusion" record, period, and also in my opinion the best fusion record ever made by anyone not named "Miles Davis." If you like the sound of turn-of-the-seventies funk-acid-jazz, all of Herb's electric albums from 1969-1973 are recommended as the good shit:

The first 3 are available together on a double CD called "Mwandishi: the complete Warner Bros Recordings"
1969 Fat Albert Rotunda (music for / inspired by the cartoon)
1970 Mwandishi
1971 Crossings

On Columbia:
1972 Sextant
1973 Headhunters


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