Exposé Online banner

Herbie Hancock — Sextant
(Columbia CK 64983, 1973/1998, CD)

by Mike McLatchey, Published 2016-05-05

Sextant Cover art

McLatchey's Second Tier

You can easily see each era of pianist Herbie Hancock's discography flow in colors. While he started in the Miles Davis Quintet, he was both leader and contributor to a whole host of Blue Note albums in the late 60s before the decade turned and the electricity started to set in. Then the Mwandishi band was formed and Hancock began to create a major electric legacy of his own after leaving his mentor. The transition from Mwandishi to Sextant showed Herbie moving to his most farthest out album, mixing various strains of experimental and free jazz with the rock and funk of the era and a great deal of electronics as well. At the time this album was created, Herbie's band was stretching out in massive chunks of music, often vamping for as long as 20 to 30 minutes at a time, so it's no surprise that when Sextant showed up it was three long pieces. This is a classic of the jazz rock era, a style that in this guise is something completely separate from fusion. But unfortunately it would be on his bandmates' albums, particularly Eddie Henderson and Julian Priester, that we'd see the evolution of this style because apparently Columbia had different ideas for the direction Herbie would take and the jump from Sextant to Head Hunters was almost bewildering on the face of it. I love that stuff too but this was the apex of Hancock's game.

Sextant was practically avant garde music, an approach to jazz that distilled a number of streams coming out of the 60s. It largely came from his live work at the time, which included vast improvisational spaces. I have a show from this period that was about three discs and included almost 30 minute chunks of long jamming stretches that worked with many of the themes that showed up on Sextant. In comparison to the live music, Sextant seems incredibly focused, but then, of course, if you flip forward to Head Hunters you'll see another considerable narrowing of the field. Having Dr. Patrick Gleason involved on the synthesizers had a big impact on the spatial quality of Herbie's work — Sextant wasn't nearly as much about jazz riffing as it was about creating huge atmospheres with a large group. If you think of Miles' Bitches Brew as being the birthplace of a number of careers you'd have to consider this band another birthplace as well, one that launched the careers of Bennie Maupin, Julian Priester, Buster Williams, and Eddie Henderson, the latter of whom fortunately continued the Sextant tangent with his own career when Hancock launched the Head Hunters band. Here you have three pieces of music that are almost like paintings with grooves that were so sparse they largely underlined the huge head spaces this group created. Like with Crossings it makes these albums almost infinitely listenable because there's just so much to follow. And maybe as time goes on we'll get to a year when this will actually seem contemporary as even to this date it's just completely ahead of its era.


Filed under: Reissues, 1998 releases, 1973 recordings

Related artist(s): Bennie Maupin, Herbie Hancock, Dr. Patrick Gleeson, Eddie Henderson, Julian Priester

Latest news

2020-05-15
Phil May of The Pretty Things RIP – We were saddened to learn that Phil May, lead singer and founding member of The Pretty Things, has died at the age of 75. The band's 1968 album S.F. Sorrow is one of the enduring classics of the psychedelic era, and the group existed in various forms until finally retiring in 2018. » Read more

2020-05-14
Jorge Santana RIP – Jorge Santana, noted guitarist, leader of the band Malo and brother to Carlos Santan, died on May 14 at the age of 68. Jorge and Carlos worked together on a number of occasions, though Jorge's career was centered around Malo, solo work, and with Fania All-Stars. » Read more

2020-05-06
Florian Schneider RIP – Florian Schneider, one of the founders of the pioneering electronic group Kraftwerk, has died at the age of 73. Co-founder Ralf Hütter announced that his bandmate had passed away from cancer after a brief illness. » Read more

2020-04-23
Shindig Festival Goes Lock-Down – Here's what they're saying: It's A Happening Thing! The Shindig! Magazine Lockdown Festival. In our days of no large gatherings of people, maybe it's still possible to have a music festival. Shindig! Magazine is giving it a go with a multi-artist streaming extravaganza on Saturday April 25. » Read more

2020-03-24
Bill Rieflin RIP – The sad news reaches us today of Bill Rieflin's death. Rieflin was best known as a drummer in bands ranging from post-punk to industrial to indie-rock to progressive rock, including work with The Blackouts, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Swans, Land, and King Crimson. Rieflin had been battling cancer for several years, and succumbed to it on March 24. He was 59. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Carmen - Fandangos in Space & Dancing on a Cold Wind – Do you like Jethro Tull? Curved Air? Flamenco dancing? Did you ever wish for a combination of the three? Your wish has come true, and its name is Carmen! And if you don't think they could pull off...  (1994) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues