Monday, January 30, 2017

Infinite Spirit Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band

Infinite Spirit
Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band
FMR Records

Pianist Bob Gluck authored "You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band” (University of Chicago Press, 2012), and in the course of writing the book had conversations with the members of this legendary band. This was inspiration for Infinite Spirit, a quartet that includes Gluck on piano and electronics, Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass, and members of the Mwandishi Band, Eddie Henderson on trumpet and Billy Hart on drums on three songs from that band, one number that is interlaced with a Gluck original and an original from Sullivan.

There have been a number of recent recordings that have reexamined similar music of this period in an acoustic manner. This release is partly (and most successfully) in that manner. Hancock played an electronic piano (Fender Rhodes) on some of the originals from this period, while Gluck adds to this an array of electronic sounds. It is a combination that to my mind is not completely successful. I mean listening to the wonderful development of Hancock's motif's on "Sleeping Giant" from Gluck on piano along with the haunting playing of Henderson as well as Hart's superb drumming (and Sullivan is a rock on bass) gets mesmerizing until about three/fourths of the way through one is assaulted with electronic effects that overwhelm the listener. Much better is the poignant performance of "You'll Know When You Get There," as well as "Quasar" in which there are sound effects layered among the performance, but do not overwhelm Henderson's marvelous playing over the ostinato bass, Gluck's chords and Hart's shifting groove. The electronics sound more integrated into the opening of "Spirits Unleashed," another display of Henderson's ability to paint a mood, and then some musical fireworks between him and Gluck with the electronic effects at the end again not overwhelming the musicians. And while the original "Water Torture" employed electronics, it was employed more successfully on the original where it was employed like an instrument and not simply sonic effects.

An intriguing recording but the electronics at times is a distraction and even unlistenable, particularly on the first of the five tracks. This is unfortunate because there is much here that is compelling.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 365). Here is a promo video for this album.

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