Monday, March 30, 2009

Herbie Hancock - Sextant (1973)

I actually stumbled onto this album a few months ago at the Uptown Cheapo Records. Having really no idea what it was, or where it fit into Herbie Hancock's career, I passed it up, only to see it quickly disappear. For whatever reason, I just wasn't in the mood that day. Now, of course, this style of highly abstract, surreal, off-the-cuff electric jazz is all I can stand to listen to. My current obsession over Miles Davis's 1974 album Get Up With It, for example.

I've long been a great fan of Herbie, and I was also thrilled to see him win the Grammy for Best Album last year. He seems to have a knack for creating very diverse and adventurous music, while still seeming commercial and accessible. He surely learned from Miles those early excursions into the dark side during the late '60s.

It's also certain that Herbie never went into the depths of the darkness like Miles had done. But Miles was the trailblazer, furiously, almost fearlessly digging out strange, exciting music that proved to be decades ahead of its time. Herbie surely followed his own abstract path in the early '70s, but he never pushed himself as far, never dove as deep into the waters, into that inhuman realm where all creative energy resides.

I'd have to say this album, Sextant, is the most far out of Herbie's career. This comes from his fertile electrified jazz period, which would soon be refined into the funk masterpiece Headhunters. But Headhunters, while fantastic (it's just about the greatest funk album ever made), feels very safe. There's none of the sense of danger, the darkness, that Miles was increasingly forging with On the Corner, Big Fun, Get Up With It. But Miles was on his own obsessive pursuit into genius or madness or whatever realm lies beyond the reach of mortal men.

Anyway, I'm rambling a little. I'm only trying to assemble all of these pieces together and understand the music of the era. I'm trying to understand why such crazed, adventurous, alien music is never found today. In 2009, "safe" means formulaic fakery. It means mindless Ken and Barbie dolls mouthing along to the computer recording. What's the use? Is our culture so fearful, so clamped down, so repressive? Is this dark, mysterious, surreal, psychedelic music so dangerous to the social order? This adds fuel to the fire of my conviction that all creativity resides beyond ourselves. The bravest souls, the ones we call "genius," dive deepest into that realm, somewhere through the Bell Non-Local Space, to hear the music of Dimension X, or perhaps the mind of God Himself.

It's hard to say. Wherever that realm of inspiration lies, precious few have dared to explore it, face it with open eyes. I think Miles Davis did that throughout the 1970's. I think Herbie also did this on Sextant. He couldn't swim deep for very long, but he did bring back these jewels. He couldn't dive as deeply, for as long, as Miles. But, then, nobody could. Today, nobody is even interested in knowing this realm even exists. As a consequence, fundamentalism and God-lessness rule our discourse.

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