Album of the Day: Herbie Hancock, "Mwandishi"

Album of the Day: Herbie Hancock, “Mwandishi”

Herbie Hancock
Mwandishi (Cd Warner Bros. 056P02)

The artistic paths undertaken by Herbie Hancock are many and with characteristics that are often antithetical to each other. The experimenter
could the tireless member of the Miles Davis quintet be the same person who in the following years opened the doors to funk and even the most vulgar disco music? It seems impossible. Yet Hancock's personality is characterized by a curiosity
omnivorous for every musical genre (and also by a never hidden passion for dollars which sometimes led him to embark on recording adventures not exactly worthy of his considerable talent).

By the early 1970s Hancock had left Davis and Fat Albert Rotunda's television music behind him and
formed a sextet with musicians of the caliber of Julian Priester (trombone), Bennie Maupin (sax and bass clarinet), Billy Hart
(drums), Eddie Henderson (trumpet) and Buster Williams (bass). Entirely devoted to electric instruments, Hancock interacted with his musical partners through extremely free compositional structures, without pre-ordained harmonic turns or recurring figurations.

Although not free jazz in the strict sense, the compositions of the album Mwandishi, released in 1970, reflect very well the
climate of the time, the desire to break away from traditional patterns while maintaining close contact with African culture (each musician also took a name in Swahili) and taking explicit political positions; it is no coincidence that the first song of the album, “Ostinato”, is dedicated to the African-American activist Angela Davis.

Extensive use of echoplex and echo effects, dense sounds with a preponderance of percussive elements, long pedals that support intense improvisations developed along considerable time spans (the entire album is made up of only three songs) for a result completely devoid of commercial potential but extremely creative and exciting, based (just like Weather Report's early records) on the musicians' mutual listening and interaction rather than a writing plan.

This type of creative development will interest Hancock for a few more years through records like “Crossing” and “Sextant”, after which the desire for funk will give life to the wild Headhunters project and a completely different artistic chapter will open for the restless Chicago pianist.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.