Herbie Hancock began his career as a leader with the appropriately-titled 1962 release Takin’ Off on the Blue Note label. Supported by Dexter Gordon on tenor saxophone, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, it was – and is – an electrifying debut for the pianist. Though rooted firmly in the hard bop idiom, Takin’ Off spawned a pop hit with “Watermelon Man,” first in Hancock’s Top 100 rendition and then in Mongo Santamaria’s Top 10 version. Hancock remained at Blue Note for seven albums, through 1969, collaborating with legends like Hubert Laws, Willie Bobo, Paul Chambers, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, and his partners in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, Tony Williams and Ron Carter. Hancock departed Blue Note for the Warner Bros. label, where he remained for three albums and roughly three years. That oft-overlooked period of Hancock’s career will be newly anthologized on July 22 with the release of the 3-CD set The Warner Bros. Years: 1969-1972.
By the end of his Blue Note tenure, Hancock had carved out a post-bop niche, pushing the envelope of melody and improvisation and incorporating textures derived from his groundbreaking work with Davis’ group as well as from rock and soul. He made his Warner Bros. debut with the December 1969 release Fat Albert Rotunda. Much of the album’s music derived from Hancock’s compositions for Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert, the NBC primetime special that introduced Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert alter ego. Fat Albert Rotunda was a leap forward from Hancock’s Blue Note work, emphasizing soul rather than pure jazz and looking forward to his future groundbreaking jazz-funk period. For the LP, songwriter-leader-producer Hancock was joined by personnel including Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and alto flute, Johnny Coles on trumpet and flugelhorn, Garnett Brown on trombone, Buster Williams on bass, and Albert Heath on drums, as well as some originally-uncredited players including Joe Farrell (tenor sax), Eric Gale (guitar), Joe Newman (trumpet), and Bernard Purdie (drums).
Mwandishi, released in early 1970 under the aegis of producer David Rubinson, featured just three lengthy compositions. It was his most pronounced jazz-rock fusion album yet, and he took the Swahili name “Mwandishi” for its recording. Hancock on the Fender Rhodes electric piano was joined by Buster Williams on bass, Billy Hart on drums, Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Bennie Maupin on woodwinds and Julian Priester on trombone, all of whom also adopted Swahili names for this spacey effort. Rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose of the band Montrose even contributed guitar. Two of its tracks were composed by Hancock, with the third – the almost 22-minute long “Wandering Spirit” on Side Two – written by Priester. Employing proto-funk and free-form jazz, Mwandishi felt like a logical extension of Hancock’s work with Davis.
Herbie Hancock’s final Warner Bros. album proved to be 1972’s Crossings, which pushed his exploration of fusion and electronic textures even further into the realm of the avant garde. He played piano, electric piano, mellotron and percussion on the challenging LP, with Patrick Gleeson on the Moog synthesizer. A quintet of singers rounded out the line-up, with David Rubinson again producing. The personnel of Mwandishi returned for another three long tracks, including the nearly 25-minute five-part suite “Sleeping Giant” which occupied the first side of the original vinyl.
After the jump: what extra material will you find on this new collection?
All three Warner Bros. albums were collected in 1994 on the 2-CD set Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings. That release contained all three albums in their entirety, neatly tracing Hancock’s evolution from the happy soul-jazz of Fat Albert through the trippy Crossings, his least accessible LP to that time. The new Warner Bros. Years follows the same blueprint but adds bonus tracks to each release: two mono single edits for Fat Albert, two promotional edits for Mwandishi and two stereo single sides for Crossings. The promo tracks receive their first-ever commercial release here.
Hancock left Warner Bros. for another major label, Columbia. He remained there, constantly evolving and breaking new ground artistically and commercially, through 1988; his complete works for the label were reissued just last year in an impressive 34-CD box set. Though Hancock’s time with Warner Bros. was short-lived, his work for the Burbank giant needn’t be overlooked any longer. The Warner Bros. Years arrives from Rhino on July 22 and can be pre-ordered below!
Herbie Hancock, The Warner Bros. Years: 1969-1972 (Rhino 8122795904, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
CD 1: Fat Albert Rotunda (originally released as Warner Bros. WS 1834, 1969)
- Wiggle Waggle
- Fat Mama
- Tell Me A Bedtime Story
- Oh! Oh! Here He Comes
- Fat Albert Rotunda
- Lil' Brother
- Wiggle Waggle (Mono) (Warner Bros. single 7358-A, 1969)
- Fat Mama (Mono) (Warner Bros. single 7358-B, 1969)
CD 2: Mwandishi (originally issued as Warner Bros. WS 1898, 1971)
- Ostinato (Suite For Angela)
- You'll Know When You Get There
- Wandering Spirit Song
- Ostinato (Suite For Angela) (Promo Edit) (previously unreleased promotional track)
- You'll Know When You Get There (Promo Edit) (previously unreleased promotional track)
CD 3: Crossings (originally issued as Warner Bros. BS 2617, 1972)
- Sleeping Giant
- Water Torture
- Water Torture (Stereo) (Warner Bros. single 7598, 1972)
It's a shame that the only bonus material turns out to be promo or single edits. There's a lot of great live music from this era that should be officially released.
Martin Kasdan Jr says
Martin, you're 'spot on'. SOME of those boots have to soundboard recordings or professionally done. And the band was really a 'live' group, from everything I've read. Maybe Warners could do a Mwandishi 'Bootleg Series'……… 😉
Martin Kasdan Jr says
I have a published review of the Mwandishi book, but it's no longer available online.
re: soundboard recordings of live shows: