HERBIE HANCOCK — Sextant (review)

HERBIE HANCOCK — Sextant album cover Album · 1973 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Sean Trane
Before changing label, Hancock had to record one more album with Mwandishi, and it came in early 73, when he did the soundtrack music of the very confidential film The Spook Who Sat By The Door, for which both Hancock and Rubinson (his producer) added funds to finish it. Someday maybe, this soundtrack will get an official release. The third and last album of the Mwandishi trilogy is the first album Hancock recorded for his new label Columbia (home of all the electric jazz rock stars) in the spring 73 and the least we can say is that the closing tier of the said-trilogy is definitely no easier on the ears than its precessors. Going through Hancock’s discography in the racks of the record store, the proghead’s attention can only be drawn and stop his eyes on this album’s stupendous artwork, courtesy of Stringett (already responsible for Crossings), and the proghead will immediately know that this is Herbie’s most progressive album (along with Crossings). Indeed Herbie was still following Miles’ Bitches Brew’s footsteps and that album’s awesome artwork proves it. So the potential Hancock investigators will normally head towards Sextant and Crossings, the Mwandishi albums closest to Miles’ Bitches.

With an unchanged line-up, the sextet attacks Sextant as if they were in the middle of a song from the previous album Crossings. And the least we can say is that Rain Dance is probably one of Hancock’s most hermetic tracks he ever wrote. Completely experimental with electronic sounds that could’ve escaped from Isao Tomita’s soundscape albums, the song is close to nightmarish and presents some Krautrock reminiscence ala Can or early TD. Somehow, this track is also reminiscent of Genesis’ Waiting Room on the Lamb album. Indeed these gloomy sounds from outer space come from their seventh member Patrick Gleason and he’s never been so present than on Rain Dance. He’s also fairly present in the following Hidden Shadows, busy with a mellotron (among others), while Maupin pulls out some superb sounds from his wide array of horns. Outstanding stuff, making you forget the previous track’s obtuse stand on in/excluding the listener.

The flipside is again taken by a sidelong track, the almost 20-mins Hornets, one of his funkiest so far (wait ‘till HH, to see/hear funk), but the tracks has moments that evoke indeed a flight of hornets. Musically it’s halfway between Rain Dance and Shadows, but it’s overstaying its welcome by at least 5 minutes. Hancock himself has turned towards the synths and with Gleeson, they started using loops

Again faced with public incomprehension, Sextant failed to sell anymore than the other two Mwandishi albums on WB. But this time it was clear that HH’s troupes were now struggling to find further grounds to explore and were starting to repeat themselves. With albums selling too few, an irregular public presence and questionable gigs (even finding The Pointer Sister as openers), stolen tapes in front of the Vanguard Village and the usual road fatigue, the group So Herbie folded Mwandishi and his next project would be bringing him exactly what lacked this one: commercial success. In the meantime, Sextant is probably the least “accessible” Mwandishi album, but it’s no less worthy and maybe my preferred one.

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