Antarctica Starts Here
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By the end of 1970 Hancock had settled on his new Sextet: joining him on a journey into unchartered territory would be Buster Williams on bass; Billy Hart on drums; Eddie Henderson on trumpet and flugelhorn; Bennie Maupin on clarinet and flute; and Julian Priester on trombone. Produced by New Yorker David Rubinson, Mwandishi (Swahili for “The Composer”; all the musicians had Swahili names bestowed upon them in the credits) marked the start of Hancock’s explorations of the outer limits of jazz.
Taking its lead in places from Miles’ In a Silent Way, the record was spacey and experimental, joining the acoustic with the electric and darting into the wild while remaining rooted in jazz rhythms. The zinging opener “Ostinato (Suite for Angela)” is built around a thick, pulsating groove; “Wandering Spirit Song,” which occupies the whole of side two, unravels over 20 minutes, abstract and dramatic. Warner Brothers’ indifference to their artist’s newfound leftfield aspirations was apparent in the record’s rather flat two-tone cover image and lack of sleeve notes, and positive reviews failed to translate into healthy sales.