HERBIE HANCOCK — Head Hunters (review)

HERBIE HANCOCK — Head Hunters album cover Album · 1973 · Funk Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
HH’s Mwandishi group not raising sufficient public interest to his eyes, Hancock tossed that project aside and disbanded the formation, keeping only Benny Maupin to from his next group The Head Hunters, which would quickly have a life out of its Hancock back-up group career. Built upon funky bassist Paul Jackson and drummer/percussionist Bill Summers and main drummer Harvey Mason, the group presents an incredibly rhythmic (and African) façade where only Maupin and Hancock are frontmen. Coming with his atrocious fake mask on his face, the artwork has lost the magic of Robert Springett’s incredibly beautiful illustrations for this album.

Opening on the now-famous almost 16-mins collectively-penned Chameleon track, the album announces its funk colour right from the first note, Jackson’s slapped bass line is setting an instant groove and the rest is history. I’m barely exaggerating here, the group settled into their groove and outside a few short escapades; the rest is just expanding, soloing and improvising on the groove. Whatever most people see in this track is grossly exaggerated or else I’m completely missing the point. Compared with his previous works, here Hancock does toy with synthesizers. To close up side A, the group gives a new work out to Hancock’s most beloved 60’s hit, Watermelon Man. A very different version of its older self, it’s probably the album’s most interesting track, one where Maupin shines from head to toe.

The flipside (this sides seems to be more inspired by Miles than the A-side) opens on a 10-minutes Sly Stone homage from Herbie, a great funky expansion where Herbie’s clavinet serves us a guitar-like sound in its groove, Hancock had not found a guitarist and decided to do without one but using that keyboard instead. The closing Vein Melter is anything but close to melting temperature, though: it’s close to cool jazz, strangely bringing us back almost to the 60’s.

By the time the 70’s half decade had passed, many had turned to jazz-funk (as opposed to the earlier jazz-rock) Hancock moving after Weather Report (who’d done so with Mysterious Traveller and Tale Spinin’, but once again Herbie would dare harder and further than either WR or Miles would. Although not being that much a fan of this album, I can only recommend it on pure commercial merits: it was a planet-wide success selling more than a million copies at the time (for jazz, that was phenomenally successful) and is among the top three jazz album saleswise today.

PS: ever notice that this album can be abbreviated to HH’s HH?

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