HERBIE HANCOCK — Head Hunters (review)

HERBIE HANCOCK — Head Hunters album cover Album · 1973 · Funk Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Hunting Funk

Hancock by mid-1973 had completely dismissed his previous highly experimental band, with the exception of multi-brassist Bennie Maupin, and decided to strip things down and make a commercial move. However, this did not imply loosing the man’s outstanding creativity and ability, he just felt that his previous avant-jazz works weren’t understood and thought of connecting with a wider audience this time (similarly to what Davis had in mind in 1972).

How else to connect with the masses than with hyper funky and slightly improvisational music? Herbie is in charge of the whole keyboard set this time, demonstrating his great capability on the latest synths and on the funk keyboard, the clavinet, also the Rhodes is still to be found. Undoubtedly a big influence to fellow fusion keyboardists, Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea, who would start to incorporate synths and clavinet.

While the music captures the roots of the funk acts of the time, Head Hunters managed to become a landmark of funk-jazz, sounding fresh even today. However, this does not mean that this is Hancock’s finest hour on the funk-jazz realm, but it’s undeniable the footprint that this album has left. The man and his band (called The Headhunters) would later develop better and more exciting and complex funky compositions, to be heard on Thrust and Man-Child.

To start with, Hancock delivered ‘Chameleon’ which has one of the most addictive synth lines ever made, but that’s something you always get from Herbie, even in his jazz days he was groovy and catchy as the future Stevie Wonder. The composition features everything a funk band needs, tight and groovy rhythm section (percussion, bass and drums), catchy lines (courtesy of Bennie’s various brass instruments) and great musical interplay, each member communicates perfectly with each other. Only flaw would be that it's a tad bit long for its own good.

The band later does a remake of the classic jazz tune, ‘Watermelon Man’, this time it’s slicker and a bit more complex in its weird funky way. I’m not really fond of this version; it just doesn’t groove much for me and thus doesn’t suit the album’s mood, but it's not bad at all.

Next composition is ‘Sly’, obvious reference to famous funk band, Sly & the Family Stone. While it is an undeniably groovy tune full of clavinet and impressive Rhodes, the tune is pretty much loose and leaves a lot for improvisation and soloing, with highly active percussion and drums all through. Good but not that good.

Final track is ‘Vein Melter’, a far more spaced out composition full of floating keyboards, smooth electric piano, and airy saxes/flutes. It’s somewhat like an anticipation of the futuristic funky style of Thrust, but it also evokes past avant/psychedelic leanings from The Sextet.

There’s no doubt that we should give full credit to this album for initializing the funk-fusion movement, and with the addition of many incredible grooves in here, this is a very enjoyable album, although not entirely consistent to be considered a masterpiece. A classic nonetheless which should be listened by every music fan who is even slightly interested in funk.
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