Friday, January 15, 2016

Bob Gluck, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Christopher Dean Sullivan, Infinite Spirit

Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band was one of the most innovative and important jazz creations of the late-'60s early-'70s. But the outspoken proponents of Neo-Trad conservatism from the '80s on denigrated the reputation of all bands that used electricity and electronics. So the legacy of Mwandishi like other key period outfits was for a time eclipsed.

With the new millennium all that has come to be reconsidered. Bob Gluck's You'll Know When You Get There, the excellent recent book on the band, its history and its importance has done much to restore for good and all Mwandishi's reputation as one of the high achievements of the period.

Since Bob is a seminal pianist and electronician in his own right, it is fitting that he express his appreciation in directly musical terms. He has done just that on the album Infinite Spirit (FMR Records CD398-0915).

For the project Bob unites with two key Mwandishi members, drummer Jabali Billy Hart and trumpet master Mganga Eddie Henderson, rounding off the ensemble with the very adept acoustic bassist Christopher Dean Sullivan.

Wisely the band does not try to duplicate the original arrangements and stylistic parameters of classic Mwandishi. Even if that were possible what would be the point? Instead the four adapt some of Mwandishi's best compositions and some original material, and take the music wherever it will go, relying upon a present-day mode of being that is free yet centered on the idea of playing off of the thematic impetus of the numbers. And all that is in the spirit of what Mwandishi did back then anyway, only this present-day outing features fruitfully extended improvisations in the moment of now as the artists feel it.

We get new interpretations of Hancock's "Sleeping Giant" and "You'll Know When You Get There," plus Maupin's "Quasar" paired with Gluck's "Sideways," Maupin's "Water Torture," and a Sullivan composition, "Spirit Unleashed."

Bob prepared some electronic sound universes that enter into the music effectively and appropriately at times, which of course recognizes an important element of the original Mwandishi in the hands of Patrick Gleason. Here we get Bob Gluck's own intriguing parallels and it adds much to the musical ambiance throughout.

The beauty and originality of this musical offering rests especially upon the lyrically ruminating creative improvisations. Bob Gluck has his own approach to the music which echoes Hancock's own harmonic-melodic brilliance but then gives it a spin that is all Gluck. His piano playing is a high point throughout. Eddie Henderson sounds as accomplished as ever here, too. He is still the master these many years later and sparks the group with some of his best work.

Christopher Dean Sullivan makes a strong case for his essential presence in the ensemble with, yes, some ostinatos but also with an openly free interactive melodic sense that goes perfectly well with the wide-ranging ideas expressed by his bandmates.

Billy Hart, as most everyone knows, remains one of the outstanding drummers in the music today. His time is a thing of beauty and he uses cymbals and drums to create real MUSIC as always. He sounds here as ever inventive and subtle in his special driving ways.

What we have most happily on Infinite Spirit is not a typical tribute album, but a genuine refashioning of the Mwandishi legacy according to the open-ended vision of the four in the ever-expanding now of original personal expression and the improvisatory arts as it has evolved since the time of the classic band.

And it is most rewarding to hear this foursome come up with a music that is an exemplary contemporary outing yet nonetheless pays homage to another very impactful era without remaining held fast to its dictates.

This is a quartet that holds its own as an entity very much itself--and gives us one of the finest new jazz performances of last year. Thank you all for your continued excellence! Readers, do not miss Infinite Spirit.

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