Review

HERBIE HANCOCK Crossings

Album · 1972 · Classic Fusion
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5/5 ·
js
Crossings is an incredible record, one of the finest pieces of music I have ever heard in any genre. Abstract jazz fusion, 20th century composition, modern electronics, African poly-rhythms and a psychedelic production that pays attention to every little detail combine to create a jazz style for a future that hasn't happened yet. Almost forty years later this album still sounds incredibly ahead of it's time. Side one belongs to Herbie, and his Sleeping Giant is a massive sprawling futuristic African suite that alternates intense avant-funk improvs with quieter mysterious sections. Herbie's playing during the abstract improvisations is incredibly intense and shows how he is the master at building a solo over a modal vamp. The quiet sections are even more inventive as Herbie shows he is also a master of modern composition and orchestration and uses his three piece horn section and electronics to build mini-orchestral textures that recall Stravinsky and Ravel. The ability to compose on a sophisticated level is one of the things that make Hancock and his band members in The Sextet a notch above other psychedelic ensembles of this time period.

Side two belongs to woodwind virtuoso Bennie Maupin, who also proves he knows how to write and orchestrate by turning in two incredible aural tone poems. Throughout the album Maupin's playing on soprano sax and bass clarinet help add to that early 20th century Russian and French chamber music sound that seems to permeate much of this album. Often his melodies recall Moussourgsky, Stravinsky and others.

Both of Bennie's compositional contributions to this album are masterpieces. Quasar is tense and mysterious and features a 'futuristic' wordless soprano melody that is similar to the classic Star Trek melody. Much of the playing on this song is abstract and improvisational, but the musicians stay calm and focused and avoid indulgent improv clichés. The reultant music is delicate and sensitive, a far cry from your cliché avant-jazz 'freak out'.

Side two closes with Water Torture, in which a deep slow bass line doubled on bass clarinet sounds like a cross between the slowest funk groove ever and yet another dark Russian composition. Once again the electronics and carefully orchestrated horn section combine to make previously unheard sound textures as we drift on an almost a-rhythmical ocean of sound. The big plus on this track is that Herbie lays it on thick with the Mellotron. Towards the end we are mostly hearing impressionistic Mellotron melodies and small interjections from the horns for that futuristic orchestral sound again.

Despite the inventive playing and composing, the real star of this album is producer David Rubinson. This has to be one of the most meticulously produced albums ever, with every bit of reverb, echo and volume boost coming together to make an absolute aural masterpiece.
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