Fat Albert (1969) and Mwandishi (1971)
Hancock left Blue Note in 1969, signing up with Warner Bros. Records. In 1969, Hancock composed the soundtrack for the Bill Cosby animated children's television show Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Titled Fat Albert Rotunda (1969), the album was mainly an R&B-influenced album with strong jazz overtones. One of the jazzier songs on the record, "Tell Me a Bedtime Story", was later re-worked as a more electronic sounding song for the Quincy Jones album, Sounds...and Stuff Like That!! (1978).
Hancock became fascinated with accumulating musical gadgets and toys. Together with the profound influence of Davis's Bitches Brew (1970), this fascination would culminate in a series of albums, in which electronic instruments are coupled with acoustic instruments.
Hancock's first ventures into electronic music started with a sextet comprising Hancock, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart, and a trio of horn players: Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), and multireedist Bennie Maupin. Dr. Patrick Gleeson was eventually added to the mix to play and program the synthesizers. In fact, Hancock was one of the first jazz pianists to completely embrace electronic keyboards.
The sextet, later a septet with the addition of Gleeson, made three experimental albums under Hancock's name: Mwandishi (1971), Crossings (1972) (both on Warner Bros. Records), and Sextant (1973) (released on Columbia Records); two more, Realization and Inside Out, were recorded under Henderson's name with essentially the same personnel. The music often had very free improvisations and showed influence from the electronic music of some contemporary classical composers.
Synthesizer player Patrick Gleeson, one of the first musicians to play synthesizer on any jazz recording, introduced the instrument on Crossings, released in 1972, one of a handful of influential electronic jazz/fusion recordings to feature synthesizer that same year. On Crossings (as well as on Weather Report's I Sing the Body Electric), the synthesizer is used more as an improvisatory global orchestration device than as a strictly melodic instrument. This reflected Gleeson's (and Powell's) interest in contemporary European electronic music techniques and in the West Coast synthesis techniques of Morton Subotnick and other contemporaries, several of whom were resident at one time or another, as was Gleeson, at The Mills College Tape Music Center. An early review of Crossings in Downbeat magazine complained about the synthesizer, but a few years later the magazine noted in a cover story on Gleeson, that he was "a pioneer" in the field of electronics in jazz. Gleeson used a modular Moog III for the recording of the album, but used an ARP 2600 synthesizer, and occasionally an ARP Soloist for the group's live performances. On Sextant Gleeson used the more compact ARP synthesizers instead of the larger Moog III for both studio and live performances. In the albums following The Crossings, Hancock started to play synth himself and unlike Gleeson, he plays it as a melodical and rhythm instrument just like electric pianos.
Hancock's three records released in 1971–1973, became later known as the "Mwandishi" albums, so-called after a Swahili name Hancock sometimes used during this era (Mwandishi is Swahili for writer). The first two, including Fat Albert Rotunda were made available on the 2-CD set Mwandishi: the Complete Warner Bros. Recordings, released in 1994, but are now sold as individual CD editions. Of the three electronic albums, Sextant is probably the most experimental since the ARP synthesizers are used extensively, and some advanced improvisation ("post-modal free impressionism") is found on the tracks "Hornets" and "Hidden Shadows" (which is in the meter 19/4). "Hornets" was later revised on the 2001 album Future2Future as "Virtual Hornets".
Among the instruments Hancock and Gleeson used were Fender Rhodes piano, ARP Odyssey, ARP 2600, ARP Pro Soloist Synthesizer, a Mellotron and the Moog synthesizer III.
All three Warner Bros. albums Fat Albert Rotunda (1969), Mwandishi (1971), and Crossings (1972), were remastered in 2001 and released in Europe but were not released in the U.S.A. as of June 2005. In the Winter of 2006–7 a remastered edition of Crossings was announced and scheduled for release in the Spring.
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