Bob Gluck, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Christopher Dean Sullivan – Infinite Spirit: Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band – FMR

Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi period reassessed.

Bob Gluck, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Christopher Dean Sullivan – Infinite Spirit: Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band [TrackList follows] – FMR CD398-0915, 63:17 [2/1/16] ***1/2:

(Bob Gluck – piano, electronics, arranger (except track 4), co-producer; Jabali Billy Hart – drums; Mganga Eddie Henderson – trumpet; Christopher Dean Sullivan – bass, arranger (track 4), co-producer)

Herbie Hancock’s legacy is the locus of the hour-long tribute, Infinite Spirit: Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band. Pianist/author Bob Gluck was inspired to put together this project when doing interviews for his book, You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band, which was published in 2012. Gluck and his bandmate, bassist Christopher Dean Sullivan, invited trumpeter Eddie Henderson and drummer Billy Hart, both Mwandishi Band alumni, to participate (the two even reuse the Swahili names listed in the credits of Hancock’s Mwandishi ensemble). The result is five lengthy pieces, four associated with Hancock’s 70s period, plus a likeminded Sullivan original. This material is imbued with groove, creativity, and crisscrosses respect for the original music with an inventive perspective.

The quartet commences with a nearly 14-minute excursion through the dazzling “Sleeping Giant,” which Hancock did as a five-part, 25-minute suite on his 1972 LP, Crossings. Hancock’s version commingled several groove statements, heightened by his Fender Rhodes keyboard, with then-new Moog synthesizer noises. Here, Gluck tapers the track’s overall size but preserves a sense of various portions and paths working as one. Initially, Hart is the focus, supplying evolving percussion components while Gluck generates electronic sounds, which act as a discursive counterpoint. Eventually, Gluck’s piano comes in as the electronics diminish into the background, and the tune’s motif is established, while Sullivan hastens the rhythmic footing. Henderson isn’t heard until the halfway mark, but his beautiful tone escalates the melodic emotionalism, and “Sleeping Giant” blooms into a buoyant undertaking. Gluck’s electronics reenter toward the back end, re-evoking a feeling of friction.

Whereas “Sleeping Giant” summarizes Hancock, the CD’s longest cut, “You’ll Know When You Get There,” extends Hancock’s vision. Hancock released this as 10-minute tune on his 1971 Mwandishi record. Gluck and his band members translate this into over 17 minutes of music which telescopes into outer space and microscopes into inner space. Different moods and textures are formed. Hart offers a continual surge of sharply shaped rhythms, matched by Sullivan’s multi-tiered bass sounds, including drone-like arco. There are multiple dramatic turns which impart a drifting shift and radiating movement, from gentle moments such as Gluck’s plaintive piano solo, to upfront and somewhat jarring sections where instruments seemingly collide against each other.

Bennie Maupin was another participant in the Mwandishi Band, and two of his compositions from the Mwandishi era are redone. First, Gluck melds his tune “Sideways” (the title track from Gluck’s 2009 trio CD) with Maupin’s “Quasar,” (another number from Hancock’s Crossings album). “Sideways/Quasar” progresses into celestial regions, guided by Henderson’s luminous and airy trumpet, underlying electronic effects (which echo the Moog noises found on Hancock’s original), and Gluck’s wide-open acoustic piano soloing. The interlocked ideas on “Sideways/Quasar” work best when the electronics disappear and the players relate to each other with close-knit musicianship. Maupin’s “Water Torture” (also from Crossings) ends the CD. The odd but appealing, off-center melody is memorable. Hart reconstructs the darting rhythmic pattern he devised on the original recording. Henderson adds a brisk, blues-flecked solo, while the foursome furnishes an offhand, funky foundation which fluctuates between a swinging foray and an abstracted disposition.

Hancock’s essence coalesces on Sullivan’s nearly 11-minute “Spirit Unleashed,” which begins with his probing solo bass introduction atop Gluck’s contrasting electronic digressions. As Gluck’s electronics transform to a quickened pulse, Henderson incorporates a lingering melodic line, while Sullivan and Hart coordinate an unconventional beat. Henderson maintains a lyrical quality even as the rhythm section deepens the rhythmic instability, which is accentuated by Gluck’s clashing electronics. Infinite Spirit: Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band is best experienced by Hancock listeners familiar with the Mwandishi recordings, or by modern electro-acoustic jazz fans. That’s because Gluck’s tempestuous electronics (which trace what Hancock did on his older Mwandishi releases), nip under and over most of the music, and may not be appreciated by all ears. Those who want to taste some of this material should stream a video which features the final eight minutes of an alternate take of “You’ll Know When You Get There.” At the time of this review Amazon only had the MP3 files.

TrackList: Sleeping Giant; You’ll Know When You Get There; Sideways/Quasar; Spirit Unleashed; Water Torture.

—Doug Simpson

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