It’s an album of sonic art. It’s electroacoustic. It’s a modal jazz/funk excursion into Afro-rhythm roots. It’s a flashback to the ’70s. It’s a testament to music that has arrived, past, and survived. It’s tarried the test of time, holding its own even through decades of ever changing musical styles and tastes. Some big hits fizzle quickly. Some fall flat after a couple of generations. But some music has staying power. Some remains fresh and relevant for centuries. Herbie Hancock’s Sextant is one that may well survive longer than most. There’s no question that it was pushing boundaries when it was recorded, and that it still presents us with exciting, original material, especially the first cut, “Rain Dance,” a dip into electroacoustic experimentalism. Cut two, “Hidden Shadows,” pulls back into more familiar fusion territory while still layering in some of the electronic textures of the first track. The final piece, “Hornets,” is an extended nineteen minute foray into ’70s funkadelic-Afro-jazz-rock with hints of Weather Report-esque transcendentalism. This was Hancock’s first recording on Columbia, the last of the Mwandishi Band, and the most far reaching. Later in the same year his crossover hit Head Hunters was released. Another musical bullseye, but it pulled the experimental, sonic art, trailblazing punches to fall back into a more mainstream middle ground. That middle ground redeemed his popularity with commercial success at the expense of the creativity exhibited in Sextant. Sextant stands a head taller than his other work from the same period despite its failure on the charts.
Over the years Hancock has proven himself to be a versatile musician, a jazz man capable of bebop, free-jazz, straight ahead cocktail lounge pablum, fusion, R&B, and funk. He can play the pop card, like his greatest hit “Chameleon,” and escape its bounds.
The recording was well done for its time, but in comparison to today’s standards it bears the blemishes of analog tape distortions and noise. Good thing the music has the power to overshadow those technical shortcomings.
(||) Rating — Music : A- ║ Performance : A ║ Recording : B- ║ Herbie Hancock, Sextant, Columbia/Legacy, 1973