HERBIE HANCOCK — Head Hunters (review)

HERBIE HANCOCK — Head Hunters album cover Album · 1973 · Funk Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
dreadpirateroberts
Five stars and I barely feel guilty about it.

This was the first Herbie Hancock album I owned, quite early in my introduction to Jazz, and it convinced me that jazz could just about incorporate any genre it liked into its broad territory of influence.

Of course, the willingness of jazz musicians to borrow and blend is hardly unique to this album, but 'Head Hunters' is one of the moments where I think the balance between two genres is achieved to such a high standard that it becomes one of those albums that eventually convinces purists from either side to come across and take a proper look.

The album kicks off with the immortal riff from 'Chameleon' (very, very satisfying to play on bass) and an incredible drum beat, Hancock creeping in with synth before eventually layering the song with a host of instruments. Soon enough it comes to a short refrain, looking back to the intro before launching into a series of solos, shared between Hancock's keyboards. It isn't until toward the last half of the song when the more conventional (compared to his other rigs) sound of the Rhodes appears for a long solo followed by one from Maupin on the sax.

'Watermelon Man,' the Hancock composition rearranged over ten years after he first recorded it, opens with yelps from voice and a variety of wind instruments (including a beer bottle) before breaking into a smoother funk than heard on the opener, with a very cruisy lead up to the solos. 'Sly' is a more insistent track, with a tight rhythm combination where Mason shines again, furious on the bass drum, hats and snare, while Maupin provides a frantic solo and Hancock chugs away in the background with his deep squeaks of clavinet (a dominant sound on the album.)

The closing song is the fulfillment of the gentler hints that appear in the three preceding tracks. 'Vein Melter' is space-jazz, slow and measured. It meanders, heavy on atmosphere, and acts as the perfect come-down after such an assault heard earlier on the record.

'Head Hunters' should surprise anyone unfamiliar with it, but pleasantly. It's a landmark work, setting a standard for others to follow in fusing jazz and funk together.
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