“Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band”
Bob Gluck-piano, electronics
Christopher Dean Sullivan-bass
(FMR Records FMRCD398-0915)
Street Date: February 1, 2016
[expires January 15, 2016]
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Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band
the search for joy and empathy is the wellspring of profound musical
encounter, this quartet recording offers bountiful food for thought and
inspiration. Pianist Bob Gluck and bassist Christopher Dean Sullivan
partner with two longtime musical associates and jazz masters, drummer
Billy Hart and trumpeter Eddie Henderson. As a foursome, they revisit
the repertoire and exploratory musical spirit of the ensemble that first
brought Hart and Henderson into the public eye, Herbie Hancock’s
seminal sextet, known as the Mwandishi band. For Hart, it was in that
band that “I found myself… we could communicate on the same level with
the same vocabulary.”
It is that vocabulary and searching spirit that inspires a plenitude of sonic colors and textures, robust grooves, melodic lyricism, and collective musical intuition. All four members of the quartet are essentially lyrical players, albeit ones equally at home with a highly energetic pulse. You can hear this lyrical sensibility in at the close of You’ll Know When You Get There, in Bob Gluck’s expressive solo and Christopher Dean Sullivan’s searching evocation of Hancock’s original bass line, and in Eddie Henderson’s intimate exposition during Spirit Unleashed.
Billy Hart is the consummate creative drummer, listening to and responding, even anticipating every turn of events, while streaming new ideas that in turn influence his compatriots. Hart’s musical sensitivity is in evidence from the opening moments of Infinite Spirit, as the recording opens with a gradually unfolding Billy Hart drum solo in Herbie Hancock’s Sleeping Giant” (13:44). Here, Hart’s ideas unfold within a dazzling array of electronic sounds--as elsewhere on this recording, composed by Gluck—to which he alternately responds and holds his ground. The solo ushers in a multi-movement suite that takes us through a sprawling piano solo in which Gluck scoops up and gracefully reconfigures Hancock’s motifs, building to a fever pitch. We again hear Henderson’s beautiful sound during a elegiac melodic section which opens into a gloriously confident trumpet solo, his trademark sun-dappled tone much in evidence.
The thematic motifs of Hancock’s You’ll Know When You Get There (17:24) receive a free wheeling treatment in this magical forest of moods and textures. Dispensing with the tune’s original structure, the new constant is the steady flow of Billy Hart’s keenly crafted rhythms and a multi-layered drone of bass sounds. The dramatic arc of the performance emerges halfway in, when a cycle of eight lush chords—composed by Hancock as a bridge to the tune’s closing cadence—takes center stage, building in strength, ebbing and flowing, leading to a delicate piano solo. Sullivan inspiringly hints at Hancock’s bass line, previously unheard in this performance, introducing a graceful, spare coda, bringing the improvisations full circle.
Bennie Maupin’s Quasar (10:49) is introduced by the tranquil opening from the title tune from Bob Gluck’s 2008 FMR trio CD, Sideways. Christopher Dean Sullivan leisurely shifts the mood to the languid 7/4 vamp over which Eddie Henderson places Maupin’s sprawling melody and luxuriates in a broadly stated pentatonic solo. A feature of the performance is the rhythmic interplay between Gluck’s block chords and monunos, Billy Hart and Christopher Dean Sullivan’s steady rhythmic stream, and the sparkles of electronic pulses and Eddie Henderson’s brief, muted articulations.
Spirit Unleashed (10:42), a new tune by Christopher Dean Sullivan, opens with a virtuosic searching bass solo juxtaposed with Gluck’s electronic percolations. As the electronics take on increasingly pulsed qualities, Sullivan and Hart begin an 11/4 vamp, undergirding a long-tone trumpet melody (hint: the melody in 5/4, constantly crosses bar lines and Sullivan’s bass line tips his hat to both time signatures). Unconventional rhythmic constructions were a hallmark of the Mwandishi band. As Eddie Henderson constructs a beautiful, melodic solo, the floor is kicked from under the rhythm section’s stability, shifting the band into an open improvisation that pairs Gluck’s angular lines with Hart’s fractured phrases. After the electronics return and Henderson rejoins the fray, the rhythm section morphs back to the opening 11/4 beat.
Infinite Spirit closes with Bennie Maupin’s Water Torture (10:41). Maupin’s catchy, off-kilter melody, played by the rhythm section, is laid down between the lines of a snarky 4/4-pattern that Billy Hart crafted on the original recording. Eddie Henderson nestles a breezy, free spirited blues-inflected solo above the beat. The band both reinforces and undermines the tune’s funky edge, while the electronic timbres and beats highlight its unstable center of gravity. A sparkling back-and-forth jazz between all four musicians ultimately gives way to an electronic free-for-all, joined by Billy Hart’s unique swing. The interplay between quartet members, electronic and acoustic sounds, and between the beat and abstraction provides a fitting conclusion to Infinite Spirit.
The inspiration for Infinite Spirit emerged from Gluck’s conversations with band members as he wrote “You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band” (University of Chicago Press, 2012). This fruits of this “revisit” will be enjoyed by a wide variety of listener; lovers of jazz of all flavors, and those who appreciate a beat that is simultaneously complex and in a groove. It will be of particular interest to lovers of the Mwandishi spirit, that musically adventuresome combination of offbeat funk, abstraction, electronic timbres, and deeply empathetic ensemble playing.
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