Mar 22, 2017

Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi Band: Funky Jazz Rock Fusion at Its Best

Perhaps Hancock's most groundbreaking music?

Herbie Hancock is a legend, no real scoop in that statement, huh? The Pianist has been a part of all the ground breaking developments in Jazz for better than 50 years.

First on his own for Blue Note, then as part of the second great quintet of Miles Davis.

 While a part of that legendary group, he released some of the all time classics of jazz for that very same Blue Note label, Maiden Voyage and Empyrean Isles to name a few.

Then When Miles had his restless spirit get the better of him, Herbie participated in the landmark jazz rock albums, In a Silent way and Bitches Brew.

By the end of 1969 Herbie needed to get his own experimental band together, that band, Mwandishi Created some of the most fully realized experimental jazz rock of the last 40 years. You can learn a whole lot more via the Bob Gluck Mwandishi band book that's pictured to the left.

Three experimental albums under the Mwandishi name:


Only 3 albums spread across two labels for this band: Mwandishi and Crossings for Warner Brothers, and Sextant for Columbia. Mwandishi, a Swahili name that Herbie adopted; along with the other members of the band, Bassist Mchezaji / Buster Williams, Drummer Jabali / Billy Hart, trumpeter Mganga / Eddie Henderson, saxophonist Mwile / Bennie Maupin, and Saxophonist Ndugu / Leon Chancler.

This Mwandishi band was Smokin' Hot, laying down some of the wildest electro funky space jazz ever recorded. The music is not as funky in a commercial sense, like the Headhunters bands were. The music was Wide open Like Bitches Brew, and could be as ethereal as In a Silent Way.

In some spots this music is quite open to free jazz, just a bubbling cauldron of music that still sounds modern and contemporary today; if you like challenging music and have open ears, please do yourself a favor and judge for yourself .



Mwandishi was recorded almost entirely at Rudy Van Gelder studios in Englewood New Jersey. Recorded in December of 1969.

The 21 minute Wondering Spirit Song, a Julian Priester composition, and the center piece of the album is roller coaster ride of a tune.

It ebbs and flows, building up tension and then releasing it, the track reminds me of Miles Davis's In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Some very avant-garde leanings also on this track.

Ostinato, a 15/8 rhythm, and the most overtly funky track on the album, and "You'll Know When you Get There", an ethereal Hancock composition that shows off the ballad voicing of Herbie to a tee.



Crossings, released in May of 1972 is the album where Dr. Patrick Gleeson is brought on board with his Moog Synthesizer. Herbie initially just wanted Gleason to set up the Moog for him to play.

Herbie was extremely impressed with Gleason, so Herbie directed Gleason to do the overdubs, and he joined the band as member.

The 25 minute "Sleeping giant" is the centerpiece of this album. "Sleeping Giant" points toward the Headhunters Band, with it's monster funk grooves.

Herbie's Fender Rhodes piano is all over the map on this track, "Sleeping Giant" is my favorite Mwandishi Band track. "Quasar" and "Water Torture", are full of Gleason's wild effects.

These two tracks are the most free and experimental of anything they did in my opinion. I dare say this track is as good as anything Miles Did in the 70's, and Eddie Henderson on trumpet does his bet Miles' fusion style playing of his career.



While not a Mwandishi band album proper, the sound and feel of the music do seem to carry over to the new label.

Sextant released in 1973 was Herbie's first recording for Columbia Records, a very similar album to Crossings, all be it, more in line with Sleeping Giant, with a definite look toward the funk commercialism to come.

This time Gleason uses an Arp synthesizer instead of the Moog. Hornets is the epic this time, with a real African element, a brutal vibe, then a beautiful vibe, all most at the same time.

A real dark modal track, reaches for the future but also reaches back to miles, ala' In a Silent Way. This albums seems a bit uneven to me. It's still great, but it feels like a transition album, as it turns out, it was.

The band was stripped down to a quartet. Herbie was only one album away from commercial super stardom with Headhunters.

Images used with permission via

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