Herbie Hancock's three albums for Warner Bros have been compiled before, most notably in Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings in 1994. The individual titles have been reissued in various editions and formats since that time. There are several things that separate this volume (issued by Rhino) from its predecessor. The first is the package. The clamshell case contains each disc in its own cardboard sleeve with original artwork. It also contains a lengthy essay by Bob Gluck, author of You'll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock & the Mwandishi Band. This set compiles not only the recordings proper, but also alternate takes, promo edits -- both Mwandishi and Crossings contained three long tracks each -- and a bonus track. Fat Albert Rotunda -- developed from a handful of tracks cut for Bill Cosby's Fat Albert cartoon show -- contains alternates of "Wiggle Waggle" and "Fat Mama." Issued in 1969, this funky soul-jazz session featured saxophonist Joe Henderson, trumpeter Johnny Coles, trombonist Garnett Brown, bassist Buster Williams, and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums in the main group, with trumpeter Joe Newman, saxophonist Joe Farrell, guitarist Eric Gale, and drummer Bernard Purdie guesting on several cuts. Disc two is the Mwandishi Band proper on its self-titled debut from 1970: only Williams and Hancock return from the previous date, joined by Bennie Maupin on reeds and winds, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Julian Priester, and drummer Billy Hart. Various guitarists -- including Ronnie Montrose and Leon "Ndugu" Chancler -- also guest. This disc includes promo edits for "Ostinato (Suite for Angela)" and "You'll Know When You Get There" as bonus cuts. Crossings, issued in 1972, added a further bandmember in synth player Dr. Patrick Gleeson -- originally intended as a sideman, Hancock was so impressed with his contributions he asked him to join, though he only remained for this recording. The bonus material features the heavily edited (though no less hip) single version of "Water Torture" and the set's treasure piece: the rare, non-album promo single "Crossings," a spacy, funky groover that revealed the future direction of the band which would record Sextant for Columbia a year later. This is the first time the bonus material from Mwandishi and Crossings has been made available. While Fat Albert Rotunda is a blast in terms of its groove quotient, the final two recordings, with their more complex, dissonant, and open explorations, are essential not only for any Hancock fan, but for lovers of '70s electric jazz. The recordings are still the most under-celebrated classics in the artist's catalog.
This is not the first time that the 3 albums which Herbie Hancock
recorded for Warner between 1969-1972 have been compiled, but this
lavish reissue re-ups the bar once again, and it's not a surprise of
course that this is courtesy the good folks at Rhino.
Hancock - The Warner Bros. years (1969-1972)" (3 CDs; 18 tracks; 153
min.) starts with the 1969 album "Fat Albert Rotunda", which in addition
to its 7 original tracks also contain alternative (mono) takes from
"Wiggle-Waggle" (issued as a single) and its B side "Fat Mama" (remember
back in those days many singles were released in mono, this was before
FM became the mainstream radio channel. The 1970 album "Mwandishi" is
musically quite a departure from the "Fat Albert" album, and pushes the
envelope for electric jazz, In addition to the album's original 3
tracks, we also get previously unreleased promo edits of "Osinato (Suite
for Angela)" (reducing the original running time from 13 min. to 6
min.), and "You'll Never Know When You Get There" (also reduced to 6
min.). It's nice to have those, although not essential. The 3rd album is
1972's "Crossings". A logical follow-up to "Mwandishi", it plays as
fresh now as it did 40+ years ago. We get the three original tracks
(including the epic "Sleeping Giant"), but the real surprise is the
bonus track "Crossings", the title track that didn't feature on the
album but was released as a single instead. It sounds like it jumped off
of the "Shaft" soundtrack, just terrific. Its B side, a 3 min. version
of the original 14 min. "Water Torture", is also included on here.
The 3 albums are packaged in the original album art (reduced for CD
size), meaning "Crossings" can be folded open. This reissue also
contains a 28 page booklet with extensive and insightful liner
notes/essay from Hancock-connoisseur Bob Gluck, pictures, and all the
recording details of the various album tracks. Bottom line: this is a
first class reissue of the Herbie Hancock Werner Bros. albums. I wish
all reissues would be done with the same care and attention for detail.