Rarely discussed, but seemingly agreed on by all, is the pantheon of greatest no-questions-asked ensembles. A space where Little Feat rubs elbows with John Coltrane’s classic quartet. The Grateful Dead raise a glass to Parliament-Funkadelic and the JB’s hang around with The Africa 70. Noticeably absent from this conversation is Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi Group, who entirely reconstituted the landscape of mainstream jazz in the 1970s and beyond.
Following Hancock’s breakthrough run on Blue Note, the pianist began to sway toward the possibilities of the electric piano. On The Prisoner, Fat Albert Rotunda, and of course, his revolutionary work with Miles Davis leading up to In a Silent Way, Hancock established the ins and outs of the instrument’s potential. Incorporating the basics of funk into his sound on 1969’s Fat Albert Rotunda, Hancock quietly spent 1970 assembling a cast of players that stylistically embodied the next – and most significant – direction of his sound.
While Bitches Brew had conditioned the jazz world to prepare for a revolution, Mwandishi was one of the first confirmations that there were followers to Miles’ gospel. Unlike Bitches Brew’s monolithic density that, at times, obscured the band, it was Mwandishi’s individual players who got the machine up and running. If one part of the equation were to be removed, the entire unit would collapse. It was one of music’s most successful experiments in Group Dynamics and set the tone in jazz for a decade. Here, we have assembled these players at the height of their creative powers in the early seventies. All are accompanied by at least one of their Mwandishi compatriots, and most feature much of the ensemble. The breadth of this universe is expansive but listen closely and the sonic tether keeping them connected is revealed. | j rooney
Herbie Hancock – “Ostinado”//Mwandishi
Eddie Henderson – “Scorpio Libra”//Realization
Herbie Hancock – “Quasar”//Crossings
Billy Hart – “Rashaan is Beautiful”//Enhance
Julian Priester – “Love, Love”//Love, Love
Bennie Maupin – “Ensenada”//The Jewel in the Lotus
Buster Williams – “Batuki”//The Pinnacle
Herbie Hancock – “Rain Dance”//Sextant