November 22, 1994
Warner Bros.
Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Fusion, Post-Bop, Jazz Instrument, Piano Jazz

Album Review

While no one can argue that Herbie Hancock's early Blue Note recordings aren't milestones in his career and some are as enduring as any other jazzman's in history, the mostly overlooked Warner Bros. period remains one of his most adventurous, creatively satisfying, and amazingly enduring. The three albums presented here all offer wildly different sides of Hancock after he left Miles Davis. All of them are presented here in their entirety, with copious notes by Bob Blumenthal, who interviewed Hancock for the package. The set begins with the wildly joyous, deep, funky groove of Fat Albert's Groove, the music Hancock recorded for Bill Cosby's Saturday morning cartoon show. These seven tracks, with their three-horn front line (originated for Hancock on his final Blue Note album, Speak Like a Child) of Joe Henderson on flute and tenor, Johnny Coles' trumpet, and Garnett Brown's trombone, are singing, lyrical funk grooves that predated Headhunters by a few years and swung way harder by sticking back and lying in the groove as much as possible. Hancock's electric piano teamed with Tootie Heath and Buster Williams to form an unbeatable, gutsy, and stomping rhythm section. The band was fleshed out on a couple of tracks by additional horns, additional drums and percussion, and electric guitars. After such a melodic entry, Warners' executives must have been shocked when Hancock brought them the abstract funkified impressionism of Mwandishi. Comprised of three long tracks, the album showcased Hancock's brief preoccupation with free jazz improvisation and long intervallic inventions on modal frames. Hancock had kept only Buster Williams in the sextet that recorded both Mwandishi and Crossings. He added Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Julian Priester, and Bennie Maupin to fill out his newfound electric preoccupation. This same band with the addition of a few sidemen recorded the completely gone Crossings. This record sank from the market like a stone, with its commercial appeal only found a year later when Hancock moved to Columbia to issue first Sextant and then Headhunters. The music on Crossings is a blend of street music and Sun Ra; it's a completely proletarian approach to out jazz that keeps it close to the street while fully exploring the varying tonal and rhythmic changes that were going on in jazz at the time. Again, only three tracks appear, though the first is a long, brazen expressionistic suite ("Sleeping Giant") that makes the more abstract moments on "Water Torture" possible for listeners to find themselves in. This double-CD package is carried only sporadically by record shops, and as inexpensive imports the three original albums can be found separately. But why would anyone want to? The musical evolution present here in the composer, arranger, and pianist is absolutely the most visionary and large-scale in his career. Where the music misses, it does so bravely, when it's on, it goes for the jugular and grooves right on in.
Thom Jurek, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Wiggle-Waggle
  2. Fat Mama
  3. Tell Me a Bedtime Story
  4. Oh! Oh! Here He Comes
  5. Jessica
  6. Fat Albert Rotunda
  7. Lil' Brother
  8. Ostinato (Suite for Angela)
  9. You'll Know When You Get There
  10. Wandering Spirit Song
  11. Sleeping Giant, Pts. 1-5
  12. Quasar
  13. Water Torture
purchase full album