Herbie Hancock's three albums for Warner Bros have been compiled before, most notably in Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings in 1994. The individual titles have been reissued in various editions and formats since that time. There are several things that separate this volume (issued by Rhino) from its predecessor. The first is the package. The clamshell case contains each disc in its own cardboard sleeve with original artwork. It also contains a lengthy essay by Bob Gluck, author of You'll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock & the Mwandishi Band.
This set compiles not only the recordings proper, but also alternate takes, promo edits -- both Mwandishi and Crossings contained three long tracks each -- and a bonus track. Fat Albert Rotunda -- developed from a handful of tracks cut for Bill Cosby's Fat Albert cartoon show -- contains alternates of "Wiggle Waggle" and "Fat Mama." Issued in 1969, this funky soul-jazz session featured saxophonist Joe Henderson, trumpeter Johnny Coles, trombonist Garnett Brown, bassist Buster Williams, and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums in the main group, with trumpeter Joe Newman, saxophonist Joe Farrell, guitarist Eric Gale, and drummer Bernard Purdie guesting on several cuts.
Disc two is the Mwandishi Band proper on its self-titled debut from 1970: only Williams and Hancock return from the previous date, joined by Bennie Maupin on reeds and winds, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Julian Priester, and drummer Billy Hart. Various guitarists -- including Ronnie Montrose and Leon "Ndugu" Chancler -- also guest. This disc includes promo edits for "Ostinato (Suite for Angela)" and "You'll Know When You Get There" as bonus cuts. Crossings, issued in 1972, added a further bandmember in synth player Dr. Patrick Gleeson -- originally intended as a sideman, Hancock was so impressed with his contributions he asked him to join, though he only remained for this recording.
The bonus material features the heavily edited (though no less hip) single version of "Water Torture" and the set's treasure piece: the rare, non-album promo single "Crossings," a spacy, funky groover that revealed the future direction of the band which would record Sextant for Columbia a year later. This is the first time the bonus material from Mwandishi and Crossings has been made available. While Fat Albert Rotunda is a blast in terms of its groove quotient, the final two recordings, with their more complex, dissonant, and open explorations, are essential not only for any Hancock fan, but for lovers of '70s electric jazz. The recordings are still the most under-celebrated classics in the artist's catalog. ~ Thom Jurek.