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Herbie Hancock: Sextant

Miles Davis’ electric work has received a lot of well-deserved, though belated, plaudits recently. Problem is, a lot of the folks who weren’t hip to fusion are drawing a straight line between Miles and modern beatophiles, sometimes ignoring the points in between. That’s true even in the case of Herbie Hancock, whose link to Miles is direct. Discussion of Hancock’s electrified ’70s outings have often started with Headhunters, the album that helped usher in an era of radio-friendly funk-jazz. But the re-released version of 1973’s Sextant (Columbia/Legacy CK 64983, 39:09) provides evidence that Hancock had more than just a passing acquaintance with the abstract. Here, Hancock is aided by his Mwandishi band, which had two albums under its belt, the self-titled 1971 debut and the follow-up, Crossings. With synthesist Dr. Patrick Gleeson on board, and Bennie, Maupin, Julian Preister, and Dr. Eddie Henderson contributing often heavily processed brass flavors, Sextant vacillates between vamp heavy tranceolgy and free-associated proto-electronica.The opening “Rain Dance” features a hypnotic repeated synth motif, an anchor for occasional blasts of sound from Hancock’s altered keyboards and Gleeson’s synth. “Hidden Shadows,” odd-meter funk provides ample space, not just for the soloists, but for the texturalists-notice how Hancock and Gleeson whip up echo-chambered madness behind Henderson’s solo, for example. By 1974’s Thrust (Columbia/Legacy CK 64984, 38:50), Hancock had pared his collaborators down to four, including newcomer Mike Clark on drums. As impressive as the playing is-Hancock’s clavinet riffs on the disc-opening “Palm Grease” should be etched in stone-bassist Paul Jackson is perhaps the most impressive, weaving in and out of Spank-a-Lee’s polyrhythmic dialogue.

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