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HERBIE HANCOCK - Mwandishi cover
4.14 | 21 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 1971

Filed under Fusion


A1 Ostinato (Suite For Angela) 13:05
A2 You'll Know When You Get There 10:01
B Wandering Spirit Song 21:23


Bass – Mchezaji / Buster Williams
Bass Clarinet, Flute [Alto] – Mwile / Benny Maupin
Drums – Jabali / Billy Hart
Drums, Percussion – Ndugu / Leon Chancler
Trombone [Trombones] – Pepo Mtoto / Julian Priester
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Mganga / Eddie Henderson
Congas, Timbales – Jose "Cepito" Areas (track A1)
Guitar – Ron Montrose (track A1)

About this release

Warner Bros. Records ‎– WS 1898 (US)

Recorded at Wally Heider Recording Studios, San Francisco, Calif.

Thanks to snobb for the addition and EZ Money, darkshade, Abraxas for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

Easily his most experimental emsemble, Herbie Hancock's Sextet released three amazing albums in the early 70s. 'Mwandishi' was their first, and in a lot of ways it shows. This is actually a very good record, but every time I listen to it I always end up comparing it to 'Crossings', the Sextet's much better follow up. Still, if you like early 70s psychedelic jazz fusion that mixes complex arrangements with free-range jam sessions, then you can't go wrong with this one. Side one opens with 'Ostinato', a pulsing odd-metered groove number that recalls Miles' 'Ife' or 'On the Corner'. I always love the way The Sextet would often double bass lines with the bass clarinet, such a mysterious sound that so belongs to that time period. Herbie turns in an amazing electric piano solo that slowly builds to an insanely aggressive and intense peak. Hancock is truly the master at building a harmonically modulating solo on top of a static harmonic base. Bennie Maupin follows with his always creepy, almost humorous lurking bass clarinet. His genius always adds so much to The Sextet's sound.

The meditative and mysterious 'You'll Know When You Get There' closes out side one. This song opens with The Sextet's brilliant mini-orchestral horn lines and voicings that sound like 20th century concert hall ensembles and then fades into quiet spare solos wrapped in spaced out electronic keyboard sounds. This is a brilliant piece, very modern and futuristic.

Side two is taken up with Julian Priester's 'Wandering Spirit Song'. It too opens with the Sextet's trademark orchestrations framed by Herbie's shimmering electric piano and fades into a brilliant spare and quiet solo by Priester. Unfortunately, after this the song meanders a bit during a group improvisation that sounds a bit disjointed and just gets boring after a while. Side two is OK, it just lacks focus and cohesion sometimes.

So what is it that makes the follow up album 'Crossings' better than 'Mwandishi'. A lot of it is in the production, both are heavy with effects and psychedelic processing, but on 'Crossings' the effects are used carefully to enhance the flow of the compositions, while on 'Mwandishi' the effects seem more random and gratuitous. Also, 'Mwandishi' takes more of a traditional approach to soloing in that the soloists are usually only accompanied by bass, piano and drums, while on 'Crossings' the band opens up more and acts more like a continuously evolving orchestra.

'Mwandishi' is a good album, but it is just the start of what will become fully realized on 'Crossings'.

Members reviews

Sean Trane
Throughout the 60’s Miles Davis’s piano spot was shared by three famous names who would alternate as the decade unravelled. Between the Austrian-born Joe Zawinul (ex-Canonball Adderley and future Weather Report) , the Hispanic Puerto-Rican (I think) Chick Corea (future Return To Forever) and the Afro-American Herbie Hancock (future Mwandishi & Head Hunters), the piano stool changed regularly of owners but also the instrument it was installed in front of… Indeed all three masters that would move on in the trail of their mentor Miles, had the chances to play both on the acoustic piano and the electric one, thanks to “the man with the horn”. At this time, Hancock was still living in Frisco and this city will be the base of the Mwandishi group, and this extraordinary communion of six musician will lead him to Buddhism after its break-up.

After his FAR album, Hancock had to move on and keeping only wind-blower Joe Henderson and bassist Buster Williams; he rebuilt his group, one that we shall call Mwandishi. Mwandishi means “composer” in Swahili and Herbie named himself for his African roots (through working on his former drummer Kuumba-Toudie-Heath’s album Kawaida), and chose to name all of the members of his new group with similar Swahili names, whether of African descendance or not. John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin and Carlos “Devadip” Santana were not doing much different with their Indian-derived nicknames. So the musicologists have referred to the albums done by this line-up as the Mwandishi group, which will suit me fine for the string of reviews I write regarding HH’s 70’s discography.

So, apart from “Mchezaji” Williams and “Mganga” Henderson, the group now integrates another wind-blower Benny “Mwile” Maupin, drummer Billy “Jabali” Hart and trombonist Julian “Mtonto” Priester; plus of course Mwandishi himself. Sporting quite a musical change compared to FAR, HH was morphing physically himself, growing an Afro hairdo that was probably not yet fully grown to maximum size, which would explain this strange white and not-so-white artwork, a deformation of a picture of HH looking at himself in a mirror; This is his second album for the WB label , and among some guests are two Santana alumni, Chepito Areas and Leon Chancler as well as the big surprise: future metal axeman Ronnie Montrose on guitar. Only three tracks to fill an album holding some 44 minutes, that’s the usual Yes or Miles Davis norms of the time, and Herbie will hold that rhythm for the Mwandishi three albums the present, (Crossing and Sextant).

The self explanatory Ostinato is an enthralling riff that’s repeated over 13-min (and dedicated to Angela Davis, the Human/Civil rights activists), constantly morphing, but this is a slow process. We get Maupin’s great bass clarinet laying out carpets of horns, after having developed the 15/4 groove, then leaving it to other instruments and underlining it for the remainder of the track. BTW, for the metalheads, Montrose’s guitar is very discreet, so don’t expect some fiery solos or chunky riffs. .The much quieter You’ll Know When You’ Get There is more contemplative, gradually pulling itself out of its meditative state and working its way to a mid-tempo before disappearing all a sudden. This track’s theme originated from an Eastern Airlines commercial and Williams’ bass line is in 15/4. Hancock’s incredible electric piano comes from a run-down Rhodes, played through a hand-played Echoplex pedal, while playing lead with the other.

Wandering Spirit is fills the flipside and starts on a haunting drone that slowly climbs the river and reaching the plains of madness about halfway through the track (this is of course the dissonant passage), but drawing on an irresistible instinctive freedom while keeping track of their mate’s actions. Hancock will also revolutionize the jazz world by taking control of the mixing desk, something then-unheard at the time, thus showing the way to other black artistes like Stevie Wonder in Music Of My Mind.

A splendid album Mwandishi is the first of a perfect trilogy, and the only thing missing is probably a cool artwork as Crossings and Sextant have. But outside of this detail, Mwandishi is brilliant and the perfect introduction (or first step) to the more supersonic Crossings and the cosmic Sextant. This album got shot down by the specialized press and didn’t sell in quantity, but the group survived by playing numerous concerts, thus getting even tighter live than in the studio. Outstanding stuff and there is better still to come.

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