Infinite Spirit Revisiting the Music of Herbie Hancock
(2016, FMR Records)
Infinite Spirit finds four ace jazz men—including two Herbie Hancock veterans—celebrating the exploratory energy of some of the earliest fusion: Hancock's sextet from the early '70s, known for the albums Mwandishi and Crossings and often referred to as the Mwandishi band. Fusion apologists take pains to divert our attention from what fusion became at its commercial apex later in the decade: the fusion of blue-blazered alto players, smooth, 335-slinging axe men, and a hundred forgettable television theme songs. Instead, they would have us disregard the late-'60s work of Miles Davis and the first wave of records by his heirs, notably, Hancock, Weather Report, and early Return to Forever. At that stage, the music was still largely improvisational: free and wild interplay within small-footprint, open-ended compositions. The forms moved organically between untimed ensemble colloquy and badass, funk- and afro-inflected jazz groove.
On Revisiting the Music of Herbie Hancock, keyboardist Bob Gluck and bassist Christopher Dean Sullivan join with two Mwandishi members: drummer Billy Hart and trumpeter Mganga Eddie Henderson. On original compositions and selections from Mwandishi and Crossings, the ensemble empathy is stunning, and Hart is in rare form. In addition to piano, Gluck supplies electronics, typically noisy and effect-oriented in the spirit of Patrick Gleeson, who played a similar role on Crossings. Highlights include every bloody track here, but for a user-friendly intro, dig the spacious free funk of the Bennie Maupin tune "Water Torture." Fmr-records.com.