Dance of Magic

Normon Connors, 1974

Years ago, in Chicago, I frequented a pool hall. I didn't play, but they did have an exceptional jukebox. It was one of those CD-varieties, so for a couple of dollars I could cue up all four songs of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters while I drank my beer. It was my first experience with Hancock's work outside of Miles Davis. It didn't take long before I was obsessing about his Sextant-era band, but they only made three (albeit phenomenal) albums. Somehow, it's I only recently realized how much that group, sometimes called the Mwandishi band, did in the small span of a few years in the early 70s. Each of the members had a couple-few solo albums and they appeared in clusters on other, like-minded albums as well, like Dance of Magic, by Norman Connors.

Drummer Connors' debut as a leader is stacked with talent. Featuring none other than Herbie Hancock on keyboards, he brought Eddie Henderson and Billy Hart along, playing trumpet and percussion. Future fusion star Stanley Clarke plays bass, doubling up with Cecil McBee on the first side. While Dance of Magic may not reach for the same depth of abstraction, it does drive in the same advanced, atmospheric grooves the Sextant band pioneered. Connors expands the Mwandishi legacy, adding different shades to my collection. 

field report no.081116

LOCATION: Prospect Park BK.NY
SUBJECT: Herbie Hancock

It's not a contradiction to say that Herbie Hancock is both a living legend and past his prime. He made a few missteps (like so many artists did in the 80s) and has settled into a relatively safe, repertory career. For me, personally, the abstract fusion of his early 70s Mwandishi band was Hancock's apex. One song they played this evening had shades of that group. It was simply titled Overture—as he said it was a work-in-progress. Perhaps that unfinished aspect is what gave it an amorphous, unsettled edge.

Even when Herbie shuttered the Mwandishis in favor of an overt turn towards popular funk music with the Headhunters, he and his crew remained advance players and their solos could burn. Most of this night felt like that—whether they trotted out Watermelon Man, or did some more straight acoustic jazz—they continually showed themselves to have chops well beyond anyone who usually plays so 'inside'.

NOTES: Herbie Hancock, with James Genus, Trevor Lawrence, Jr., Lionel Loueke, and Terrace Martin