THE HEADHUNTERS — Survival of the Fittest (review)

THE HEADHUNTERS — Survival of the Fittest album cover Album · 1975 · Funk Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
The Headhunters started out as Herbie Hancock’s back-up group for such groundbreaking funk jazz albums as “Thrust” and “Man Child”. When 1975 rolled around, Herbie had moved on to other things and The Headhunters decided to keep performing without him. Interestingly enough, The Headhunters didn’t replace Herbie with another keyboardist, but instead chose young up and coming guitar whiz Blackbyrd McKnight. Blackbyrd is a criminally over looked guitarist, a pyrotechnical soloist who combines rock flash, jazz complexity and super tight funky rhythms to any project he joins. McKnight is equal parts Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix and Wah Wah Watson and after The Headhunters, has been a guest with many groups including George Clinton’s P-funk mob and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Overall this is a very solid set of intricate funk jazz leaning towards fusion. The Headhunters rate along side The Meters and The JBs when it comes to the Godfathers of funk jazz, but The Headhunters have the edge when it comes to the more extended jazz influenced jams. Also, due to their ultra technical drummer, Mike Clark, The Headhunters take on the funk is jazzy and abstract in a style where the beat constantly turns around and shifts in unpredictable directions.

One very interesting cut is “Rima” on which the guys, led by ace composer and woodwinds player Bennie Maupin, drop the funk for a bit and get into an extended woodwinds and electronics tone poem similar to Bennie’s work with Herbie on the classic psychedelic jazz masterpiece “Crossings”. When it comes to this sort of exotic space-jazz electronica, only Maupin can match Herbie’s beautiful electro-acoustic orchestrations. The album closes with “If You’ve Got it, You’ll Get it”, on which Blackbyrd is given room to play an extended acid rock/jazz fusion solo reminiscent of the great Pete Cosey.

If you liked The Headhunters work with Herbie, then you will probably enjoy their attempt to carry on without him.
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