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HERBIE HANCOCK - Sextant cover
4.36 | 42 ratings | 5 reviews
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Album · 1973

Filed under Fusion


A1 Rain Dance 9:16
A2 Hidden Shadows 10:13
B Hornets 19:36

Total Time: 39:09


- Herbie Hancock - piano, Fender Rhodes, Hohner D-6 clavinet, mellotron
- Bennie Maupin - soprano sax, bass clarinet, piccolo, afuche, hum-a-zoo
- Dr. Eddie Henderson - trumpet, flugelhorn
- Julian Priester - bass trombone, tenor trombone, alto trombone, cowbell
- Buster Williams - electric bass, acoustic bass
- Billy Hart - drums
- Dr. Patrick Gleeson - ARP 2600 and soloist
- Buck Clarke - percussion

About this release

Columbia – C 32212(US)

Recorded at Wally Heiders, San Francisco and Different Fur Trading Co., San Francisco

Thanks to snobb, EZ Money, darkshade for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

The last album by Herbie's Sextet is a mixed bag, excellent in some parts, less so in others. The album opens with 'Rain Dance'. This song is all about 7th member Patrick Gleeson and his Arp sequencer. Patrick sets up some killer old school analog synth sequences that sound like an African take on early electronic composer Morton Subotnik. The band interacts some, but much of this track is all syncopated electronics. I'm sure the sections where the drums interact with the sequencer are a prize find for many an acid jazz DJ. Because of it's analog textures and early synthesizer technology, this track also has an almost kitsch 'futuristic'/retro appeal to it. Definitely something to put on when you are trying to show off your most unique tracks to your music collecting friends. The following track, 'Hidden Shadows' is a real psychedelic gem. The band hit's a slow odd metered groove that has the bass clarinet doubling the deep wah wah bass line. Over this Herbie layers psychotic 'classical' piano, sweeping Mellotrons, synth noises and orchestrated horn lines that recall Herbie's late 60s impressionistic lounge jazz.

On side two though, the band begins to lose their way. The lengthy improvisation 'Hornets' makes up all of this side and it is your standard psychedelic free rock-jazz work out that was common with people who had spent time playing with Miles. This would be just fine, but the usually brilliant Bennie Maupin decides he is going to play the part of the 'hornet' and begins to jam furiously on the 'Hum-a-Zoo' ie a kazoo. He only lets up for a few minutes towards the end of the side when Hancock plays an amazing ultra-aggressive keyboard solo switching between electronically processed clavinet and electric piano and is building things to a peak when all of a sudden someone leaves the screen door open and here comes that damn hornet again.

Side one of this album features The Sextet's usual brilliant mix of electronics, uniquely orchestrated horns, modern composition and vast psychedelic soundscapes, but side two is just annoying, unless you like kazoos.
Everybody knows what John McLaughlin did in the 70s, as well as what Joe Zawinul with Wayne Shorter did, and also what Chick Corea did. But everyone seems to forget what Herbie Hancock did first before doing his commercially successful funk-fusion.

Hancock formed a sextet in 1970 known as the Mwandishi group, alike the early years of Weather Report (Zawinul & Shorter), this group followed the master’s (Miles Davis) experimental footsteps, recalling the freaky improvisation and grooves, but this time the idealist being Herbie. It’s already clear by listening to the band’s debut or Weather Report’s debut in any case, that these two groups didn’t have in their minds to emulate Miles 70s music, if not just capture a part of it, and from there evolve in their singular way.

However, it’s not in the debut where Hancock & Co. really develop the highly inventive and sophisticated group that those who know the work praise (it still was pretty great though). It’s actually in the following, Crossings, with the addition of substantial member, Dr. Patrick Gleason and his synths, that things start to really be creative and ahead of its time.

For their third and final release, entitled Sextant, they stretch things even further, more abstract compositions and repetitive cyclic rhythms a la Davis. If Crossings sounded to you already dense and full, well Sextant is here to give you more, though not necessarily better.

‘Rain Dance’ starts things off in a very odd way full of bleep-blops out of Patrick’s synths, surely emulating the rain. It’s mostly electronic music, not far from the German school of Klaus Schulze & Co., with jazzy passages every now and then just to assure you that you bought a Herbie Hancock record. Way too experimental sounding for my taste.

‘Hidden Shadows’ brings back the highly inventive psychedelic fusion of Crossings. Repetitive complex rhythms with a lot going on in the background, say mellotrons, synths, percussion, you name it. The composition evolves slowly with increasing number of participants and of grooves, all in all making a spectacular odd mix of chilling psychedelic music and moving fusion. Herbie’s piano solo near the end is fascinating.

‘Hornets’ is the central composition of the album lasting 19 minutes. Again a cyclic rhythm is present, one that would inspire Eddie Henderson’s Realization album. Psychedelic ambience is featured throughout with a lot of different keyboards, plus interesting woodwinds. It could have been another masterpiece like 'Sleeping Giant' from Crossings, but for me it drags for too long, even there’s the presence of a kazoo which is simply annoying.

A fusion landmark in terms of creativity and ability of the musicians on board to play unique eclectic fusion, but it’s actually only the second composition that makes this album really worthwhile.

Recommended to fans of Davis' 70s albums and fusion-alike. However, you should get Crossings first before delving in Sextant which is clearly more experimental and less consistent.

Members reviews

For many years I didn't even realize Herbie Hancock released an album earlier the same year as his ever-popular Headhunters, until about ten years ago. Sextant was that album, and his first for Columbia. I heard how much it was a commercial failure, but the only reason for that, really, was it was over the heads of mainstream listeners. For the most adventurous listeners, you're really in for a treat! The lineup is the same as before, with Hancock, Billy Hart, Buster Williams, Eddie Henderson, Julian Priester, and Bennie Maupin, with Patrick Gleeson providing the ARP 2600 synthesizers. "Rain Dance" is a really appropriate title, with Patrick Gleeson proving a bunch of synth effects that sound like rain drop patterns. It's loaded with lots of electronic sound effects, plus the jazzy sound in a more experimental manner that's sure to scare off Kenny G. fans. "Hidden Shadows" features Weather Report-like rhythms, and I really love how the Mellotron peeks in from time to time (Herbie Hancock could have potentially became one of the Mellotron greats, but I'm certain the usual mechanical issues was the reason he gave up on it by 1974, and only used it for a short time). "Hornets" has a bit of that funk influence, with blaxploitation-type drumming and Hancock's use of the clavinet, but even here there's so many trippy and unconventional passages to scare off more mainstream listeners. Of course, Columbia Records did not want more albums like this, and wanted something that would sell, so it's little wonder why Hancock formed a new band, and moved towards a more funk-oriented direction that would sell. To me, Sextant just totally blew me away and convinced me to try his previous albums with this lineup (Crossings, Mwandishi). If you like your fusion off-the-beaten track and non-mainstream, you can't go wrong with this.
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.

5/5 doesn't mean this album is equally good as "Headhunters" or "Maiden Voyage". This is the masterpiece of it's own time, but still after so many years it makes a great impression. Unique, original and inteligent.

The history of music is very tricky. Every one thinks that after "Emergency!", "Bitches Brew" and some late 60s prog-rock albums the beging of the JAZZ-ROCK was a fact. No, it was not! It had taken a few years to stabilize this guitar and synthesizer driven fusion. Before this jazz musicians were still searching for the right direction.

"Sextant" is an good example of this somehow mysterious 1969-1972 period. It is a new "Maiden Voyage" into the world where jazz meets electronic music, avant-garde and rock. Yes, rock. Despite there are no guitars, "Sextant" does have very "rocky" feeling.

The first track is mind-blowing. Do you see the cover with those tribal people dancing on kind of a cosmic Egypt under the giant Moon? This is the best description of this music I can imagine. "Rain Dance" is an intelectual journey into space. And it also differs a lot from monotonous (yet fascinating!!!) early Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze albums. If you are an electronic maniac, you can't miss the amazing keyboard playing by Hancock and Patrick Glesson.

"Hidden Shadows" is a very specific mixture of rock and jazz. Sharp, but laid-back, theme expressed by brass, electric bass and key riffs sound much like a rock or krautrock psychedelic track. But instead of guitar playing and power-drumming there are lots of a slighlty free-jazz sax, trumpet and synth notes. There is also a crazy staccato Herbie's solo that drives the track into extremely dense, cosmic ending.

The last track is a hardcore one. After a few minutes of loose intro and some bee-like sounds, the drum break at 3:17 begins the proper, fiery Hornets theme. The main part is almost constant dialogue between keayboards (lot of fun hearing those mad ring modulator, wah-wah and echoplex effects!) and brass. It sound like a meeting of gods, young genius musicians that have an opportunity to fulfifl the whole track with their crazy, new ideas. It's also good to notice the untypical groove that can remind a bit the afro-beat music. This track also shows that Hancock is still a brilliant jazz pianist who can play improvization that winds in the unexpectable direction.

"Sextant" is an amazing show of the expanding of the world jazz. But it's also good to remember that this album is strongly avant-garde and won't fit into ears of orthodox mainstream listener or someone searching for jazz-funk gems.

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