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Herbie Hancock - The Herbie Hancock Group: Head Hunters CD (album) cover

THE HERBIE HANCOCK GROUP: HEAD HUNTERS

Herbie Hancock

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.89 | 212 ratings

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JLocke
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The first time I heard the opening synth bass line for ''Chameleon'', the opening track on Head Hunters, I knew I was in for something very different for a Jazz record. Herbie Hancock was among the pioneers of Jazz-Rock who actually came out of the Jazz circuit and not the Rock one. Along with buddy/mentor Miles Davis, he would set into motion a movement of acceptance and adoption that would lead to some of the most interesting eras music ever saw. This type of fusion saw lauded Jazz greats openly embracing for the first time the more modern, outside influences and using them to further enhance and really make it a style of their own. Rather than simply ignoring the undeniable draw of Rock music, a small group of professionals in the increasingly- snobbish Jazz world show their peers what could be gained by mixing styles together. After all, didn't the Classical snobs scoff at the American hot music at first?

This particular album, along with Miles Davis' Bitches Brew a few short years earlier, really woke the public up and demonstrated what could be accomplished in the Jazz-Rock movement when put in the proper hands. Herbie Hancock, already greatly influenced by his work with Miles, would take things a step further by bringing this eclectic attitude into the mainstream. He wanted to make an electric record that didn't follow the same path as his last release, but still felt fresh and exciting in its own right. What he ended up deciding on turned out to be a brilliant move: make a Jazz-Rock album with heavy Funk influences in the vein of Sly and the Family Stone and other such artists. Risky? Indeed. In fact, Hancock himself would later admit to writing off the idea when it first entered his mind. But ultimately, he couldn't resist the draw of the challenge. Luckily for us, the privileged audience, Mr. Hancock would follow through with it.

As I alluded to back at the very start, the first track alone makes this album worth owning. The fact that the band is able to do so much with such a basic foundation in the form of that classic bass line shows the talent and passion involved on the recording. Once the saxophones come onto the scene, it's all over and you're at the song's mercy. Things only get better from there, with Hancock ultimately breaking it at just the right moment and playing all the right tones at just the right time. His solos flawlessly flowing overtop of the other instruments can send chills up your spine. Bennie Maupin as already mentioned is also great, and the drums and percussion section is just fantastic all throughout the record. I might say ''Chameleon'' is still the highlight of the record, but that doesn't mean the album disappoints the rest of the way. Far from it. ''Watermelon Man'', a re-imagining of a previous classic previously recorded by Hancock, adds just as many surprises as if were an entirely new piece, so it doesn't stick out at all, and is by this point the better-known and preferred version of that particular song, I'm sure.

''Sly'' is a musical tribute to, you guessed it, Sly Stone. Wearing one's influences on the sleeve could be taken as either laziness or the ultimate form of flattery. In this case, it's definitely the latter. Mainly because the ''Sly'' track is still very original and stands on its own without any obvious musical callbacks to Sly's music itself, I take this track for the most part as much more of an ode or tip-of- the-hat to a musician Hancock just happened to be influenced by at the time. But it's a great track regardless of how you wish to analyze it. ''Vein Melter'', the last track, is probably my least favorite of the bunch it's still very cool in its own right. Very mellow. There are some semi-cheesy sound effects that seem the most noticeable on this track, but it's not so much that it ruins the music itself in the slightest. I'm just giving you a heads-up, however. It has its beautiful moments, but on the whole, ''Vein Melter'' is a lesser track when compared to the greatness of the three that came before it.

Having said that, it serves as a great album closer to chill you out and leave you anxious to hear the next release from Mr. Hancock and his new style. Luckily, we are able to jump forward in time and listen to what came after. However, while many people might say the Herbie has done more substantial work either before or since this release, you must keep in mind the historical importance this album in particular holds. In many ways it was the beginning of whole new era of music for many, and when you also take into account how well done the music on Head Hunters truly is, even all these years later, I see no reason why you should be without it. It's a classic, and well-deserving of that title. Four-and-a-half very enthusiastic stars from me. The single, ominous drum kicks at the very end of everything helps close the album with just as much mystery and intrigue as the funky bass helped begin it with.

JLocke | 4/5 |

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