[Review] Herbie Hancock: Mwandishi (1971)

New band, new names and a new language of jazz that set into motion a trio of groundbreaking elpees.

Kronomyth 10.0: I chant be gone long, you come too.

Untethered and touching all of the cosmos at once. That’s the impression I have of Mwandishi; that it’s as much a spiritual quest as a musical quest. Everything about this album suggests a new beginning. There is a new band (only Buster Williams remains from the Fat Albert experiment) and, more importantly, a new purpose. Herbie Hancock asked the band members to take new, African names, as if the entire Mwandishi experience were a rebirth and, of course, it many ways it is. The sounds captured here are unlike anything Hancock had done to date. For the listener, the sensation is like living in a waking daydream.

The music could be said to exist in a kind of spiritual stereo; instead of left and right channels, there are conscious and subconscious channels. In the conscious channels (the present), you have the perfect solos of Eddie Henderson, the rhythmic painting of Hancock, the profoundly alien sound of Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet and Buster Williams’ mantric bass. In the subconscious (the timeless), you’ll find the lush rhythms of Billy Hart and Leon Chancler, Hancock’s soft and dreamlike Rhodes and Julian Priester’s sheltering trombone sounds.

Mwandishi only contains three tracks, which blend together to form a single journey. The opening “Ostinato” is a spiritual ceremony of sound that makes the unorthodox sextet (trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet) seem a divinely inspired configuration. “You’ll Know When You Get There” and “The Wandering Spirit” are ethereal, unfolding, spectral, majestic. From a production standpoint, Mwandishi is one of the most impressive-sounding jazz albums to date; the placement of sounds in the stereo mix opens a new dimension to the music. It seems that each new Hancock album raises the bar, but Mwandishi raises it to a higher level of consciousness. For many listeners (myself included), this album marks the beginning of Hancock’s most fascinating phase.

Original LP Version

A1. Ostinato (Suite For Angela) (Herbie Hancock) (13:05)
A2. You’ll Know When You Get There (Herbie Hancock) (10:15)
B1. Wandering Spirit Song (Julian Priester) (21:30)

All compositions arranged by Herbie Hancock.

The Players

Herbie Hancock/Mwandishi (Fender Rhodes piano), Leon Chancler/Ndugu (drums and percussion), Billy Hart/Jabali (drums), Eddie Henderson/Mganga (trumpet, fluegel horn), Benny Maupin/Mwile (bass clarinet, alto flute), Julian Priester/Pepo Mtoto (trombones), Buster Williams/Mchezaji (bass) with Jose “Cepito” Areas (congas and timbales on A1), Ron Montrose (guitar on A1). Produced by David Rubinson; recording engineered by Fred Catero; executive producer: Lee Weisel.

The Pictures

Front cover designed by Bonnie Schiffman and Robin Mitchell. Back cover photos by Edmund Shea.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in March 1971 in the US (Warner Bros., WS 1898 and/or ST-93723), the UK (Warner Bros., K46077) and Japan (Warner Bros., P-8044W); reached #16 on the US Jazz charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Warner Bros., WS 1898, on Burbank label).
  2. Re-packaged with Fat Albert Rotunda and Crossings as Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings on 2CD on November 22, 1994 in the US (Warner Bros., 45732).
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc on January 29, 2001 in the US (Warner Bros.).
  4. Re-issued on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 2007 in Japan (Warner Bros., WPCR-12752).
  5. Re-released on super high material compact disc on October 26, 2016 in Japan (Warner Bros., WPCR-29114).

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