Going Track-by-Track With Herbie Hancock’s “Crossings”

Crossings is the middle album in Hancock’s Mwandishi trilogy of albums. More experimental than the previous album Mwandishi but not as adventurous as the next album Sextant. This is the first Herbie album to feature the great artwork of Robert Springett; he will continue to do covers for Hancock throughout the decade. A major difference here compared to Mwandishi is the presence of Patrick Gleeson who added his Moog synthesizer to the album. Gleeson wanted to overdub some Moog over what the group had recorded. Herbie loved what he heard but apparentally other members of the Mwandishi line-up were not as enthusiastic. What the group originally recorded was African-influenced experimental jazz; with Gleeson’s additions it became music from another time and space.

Hancock wrote the side-long “Sleeping Giant” while winds player Bernie Maupin wrote the other two tracks. That side-long track is supposed to be made up of 5 parts. It opens with African styled percussion along with spacey sounds from the Moog. Later on it goes into light jazz-rock. The music stops at one point and resumes as moody orchestral jazz. Eventually some fuzzed-up electric bass leads the group into a funky jam which briefly gets interrupted by some more orchestral jazz. Gets more traditional fusion sounding towards the end. Finishes with more orchestral jazz, at the very end is some cool spacey sounds.

“Quasar” opens with some spacey avant-jazz before going into more straight acoustic jazz territory (with the obligatory Moog sounds). Over halfway goes into orchestral jazz. You hear some percussion from “Sleeping Giant” at one point. This is the most loose and improvised piece on the album. My favourite track has always been the last one “Water Torture.” After some Moog squiggles and random percussion it goes into an interesting rhythm on drums and percussion. Then Fender Rhodes and acoustic upright bass play in unison, sometimes joined by wind instruments. Later everything gets more free and loose sounding. Over halfway gets slightly more funky with the wah-wahed Rhodes. The Mellotron near the end is great; if you think the best Mellotron parts are all in Symphonic Prog, you would be wrong.

I’ve always thought of Sextant as the definitive artistic statement from Hancock, with his preceeding work leading up to it and his later work slowly going in the wrong direction. For me this album will always stand in the shadow of Sextant, although I can see why it’s so loved and Sextant may be a turn-off to some people. I wish Hancock would have extended this period in his career but unfortunately it just didn’t pay the bills.

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