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Herbie Hancock

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Herbie Hancock The Herbie Hancock Group: Head Hunters album cover
4.03 | 275 ratings | 20 reviews | 32% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1973

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Chameleon (15:41)
2. Watermelon Man (6:29)
3. Sly (10:18)
4. Vein Melter (9:10)

Total Time 41:38

Line-up / Musicians

- Herbie Hancock / ARP Odyssey & Soloist synths, Fender Rhodes, Hohner D6 clavinet, pipes, co-producer
- Bennie Maupin / soprano & tenor saxophones, saxello, bass clarinet, alto flute
- Paul Jackson / electric bass, marimbula
- Harvey Mason / drums
- Bill Summers / percussion (congas, shekere, balafon, agogo, cabasa, hindewho, tambourine, log drum, surdo, gankogui, beer bottle)

Releases information

Artwork: Victor Moscoso

LP Columbia ‎- KC 32731 (1973, US)

CD CBS ‎- CK 32731 (1982, Europe)
CD Columbia ‎- CK 47478 (1992, US) Remastered & remixed by Vic Anesini

Thanks to clarke2001 for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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Buy HERBIE HANCOCK The Herbie Hancock Group: Head Hunters Music

HERBIE HANCOCK The Herbie Hancock Group: Head Hunters ratings distribution

(275 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(32%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(46%)
Good, but non-essential (16%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

HERBIE HANCOCK The Herbie Hancock Group: Head Hunters reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

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 ethnic African) façade where only Maupin and Hancock are frontmen. Coming with his atrocious fake mask (mocking African heritage I find) 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, most African Americans 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?

Review by Prog Leviathan
4 stars You don't have to be a jazz fan to enjoy the instantly addictive sound to Head Hunters, which grabs hold with funky grooves and doesn't let go. Listeners coming here for rock fusion will probably be (delightfully) disappointed, since this album is like pure, liquefied 1973, dripping syrupy sweet , moody jams which at once both tickle with camp and beg the listener to explore further-- where they'll discover finely polished musicianship and genuine class.

The first track alone gives the listener some of the most rewarding grooves I've ever heard. Jackson's now-famous bass line will appeal to everyone's sense of rhythm, and some of the choruses make me want to stand up and shout. The real good stuff, though, are the numerous solos and transisions between. We're given outstanding organ, synthesizer, and woodwind solos, with moody, intricate rhytm from drums and bass. Tempos are predominantly slow, lending a mellow feel to the album, but things do cook on the upbeat Sly, where Maupin delivers some frantic sax playing with shimmering percussion behind. The whole album oozes class. Very few albums reward this balance of active listening and moody background.

Songwriting: 3 Instrumental Performances: 5 Lyrics/Vocals: NA Style/Emotion/Replay: 5 Head Hunters is a standout anomaly in my collection of dark metal and heavy rock, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who even half-way likes jazz; it's 40 minutes of groovy bliss and stellar musicianship.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars Herbie had felt that the sextet had reached it's peak by the end of 1972. "I had been spending so much time exploring the upper atmosphere of music and the more ethereal kind of far- out, spacey stuff. Now there was this need to take some more of the earth and to feel a little more tethered; a connection to the earth". "I was beginning to feel that we (sextet) were playing this heavy kind of music, and I was tired of everything being heavy. I wanted to play something lighter". It was while he was chanting that he started to think about Sly Stone and how much he loved his music and how funky it was. As they went into the recording studio his intentions were to do a Funk album. "I wanted to actually do kind of a Funk album. I didn't know it was going to be a combination Jazz and Funk at the time that we started off". He goes on to say that "Miles had a major influence on "Head Hunters", especially on tunes like "Sly" and "Vein Melter"". I was set to be disappointed with this one but was pleasantly surprised. Although in my opinion it doesn't come close to the brilliance "Crossings" or "Sextant".

"Chameleon" is very funky to start out. Piano a minute in and horns follow. This is really catchy. Clavinet comes in after 4 minutes (as the funkiness is relaxed) and continues to lead until after 7 1/2 minutes when the bass and drums dominate. Electric piano joins in and this mellotron-like sound that comes and goes. The drums are fantastic throughout. Back to funky town 13 1/2 minutes in to end it. "Watermelon Man" was something Herbie had done with Donald Byrd about a decade earlier. It has this interesting intro with flute, vocal expressions and other sounds coming and going. Electric piano and horns come in before 2 minutes then it ends like it began. Cool tune.

"Sly" is dedicated to Sly Stone. Drums, bass and piano to open. It settles in before a minute. The intro soundscape returns then the tempo picks up 2 1/2 minutes in and the sax is all over it. So much going on here.Impressive. It settles down some around 5 1/2 minutes as piano takes the place of the sax. Check out hancock on the piano after 8 minutes ! A change 9 1/2 minutes in as it calms down then the intro soundscape returns. "Vein Melter" is laid back with horns, bass, piano and drums. Mellotron before 2 1/2 minutes and later as well.

Barely 4 stars from me although there's enough of the Jazz element and Miles Davis influence to get me excited at times.

Review by friso
4 stars This is a psychedelic jazz-funk album of Herbie Hancock and the Head Hunters. After the progressive period Hancock had to give in a bit to the crowd, but the result is a very cool album that I've played on my house parties over the years. The opening track with its electronic bass line, percussive bas guitar and funky piano has this unique optimistic vibe that accentuates the beautiful chords towards the end. The keyboard sounds of Hancock are original and his playing is actually quite progressive. A psychedelic funk track like 'Watermelon Man' with its tribal vocal opening is something you've likely heard before somewhere. Side two offers more fusion oriented tracks that are good, but perhaps not as memorable as the two killer tracks on side one. The album artwork of this record is among my five favorite sleeves ever created. Ask your friends what emotions the metal head has and you'll find a great variety of answers (happy, sad, angry, fearful).

After this record Hancock would release more recommendable funk jazz records, but the Head Hunters would release an even better progressive funk album called 'Survival of the Fittest'.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After brilliant, but commercialy unsuccessful album of the same year ( but with another band) "Sextant", Hancock formed another bad and released their first album - "Head Hunter". Till now, this album is most popular Hancock album ever.

New band ( "Headhunters") was the beginning of the new direction - instead of long psyhedelic compositions, based on cold synth-keyboard mixed with brass section and very advanced structurs of "Sextant"period, "Head Hunter" is based on funky rhythm and is much more structurised. In fact, it is more rhythm, then melody. African drumming plus heavy bass line,mixed with all range of synthesizers, produced great groove. First of all serie of funk-jazz albums still contains long compositions and isn't too commercial.But the magic is gone.

For sure, this album is more accessible than "Sextant" or some earlier albums, so it received great commercial success in time of it's release. But for me it is first step out of Hancock "golden age".

Review by Easy Money
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Head Hunters was the first album in which Herbie Hancock attempted to weld his jazz and neo-classical sensibilities to his sophisticated take on the popular funk beats of the time. It's not a bad album and has some great moments, but it's not as developed as his future funk/fusion masterpieces; Thrust and Man Child. Side one opens with the all too familiar fat funky synth bass line of Chameleon. Back in the day older jazz musicians hated this bass line and it's synthetic sound, their venomous foam-at-the-mouth descriptions of this tune made for many a humorous break-time during jazz band rehearsals. Anyway, the synth-bass line plows ahead and is topped by an out of tune over reverbed lead-synth that sputters away until finally there is a break and Paul Jackson enters with a real bass and the band finally has a chance to cut loose and jam. This section features an excellent Fender Rhodes solo backed by Herbie and Bennie Maupin's loungey neo-classical orchestrations on flute and string synthesizer, very nice. Side one closes with Hancock's great abstract Africanized and modernized take on his RnB classic, Watermelon Man.

Side two opens with Sly, which could have been a great high-energy abstract avant jazz-funk roof burner, but there are these, not one but two, rhythm clavinet parts that Hancock added that are way too loud and persistent and bury all the great poly-rhythms with this constant clavinet chatter that sounds like Stevie Wonder on meth with a bad case of the shakes. All is made up when side two closes with a classic Hancock futuristic loungey, achingly slow groove called Vein Melter. This is one of the finest Hancock tunes I know of and bears some strong resemblances to the sound of his previous band, The Sextet. Producer David Rubinson, from the excellent Sextet - Crossings album, and Herbie recreate some of Crossing's beautiful textures with double-tracked woodwinds, Mellotron, Arp String Ensemble and laid back Fender Rhodes playing through a classic Echoplex, very very nice.

Head Hunters is a fairly good and innovative album in the world of funk-fusion, but it is a bit inconsistent and unrefined, if you are looking for the best Herbie has to offer in this genre check out the hyper-abstract syncopations of Thrust, or the ultra slick future lounge jazz of Man Child.

Review by ProgressiveAttic
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Funky addiction!

Hancock, after ten albums with Miles Davies, started the 70's with his own complex avant fusion experimentations. After the release of three such works, he found himself intellectually tired and not very successful financially. So, he decided to experiment with a more accessible sound and being a fan of funk music, he recruited a new band "The Head Hunters" and started to experiment by combining jazz, rock and funk. As a result, the band generated a series of albums with funk leanings, being this one the first.

This album achieved every single one of the goals proposed: the music is so accessible that could appeal to non jazz enthusiasts, while at the same time Hancock's usual audience would find it highly enjoyable (although this album was highly criticized); the musical styles blended marvelously; and this was Herbie's first smashing sales success.

The entire album is driven by the impressive, sometimes intricate and funky rhythm section, while the melodic elements develop from its foundation. African percussions appear throughout the album to give even a more interesting rhythmic flavor to the musical mix. Everything is spiced up by the melodic predominance of Hancock's wide array of keyboards (being the Fender Rhodes electric piano the predominant) and the sporadic appearance of brass instruments.

Chamaleon is, in my opinion, the most interesting track in the album. It opens the album as an introduction to what will come next, driven by the funky rhythms and highlighting the bass work, while it builds up into a jam session with lots of soloing, improvisation and a very tasteful selection of keyboard sounds to create a background (besides the outstanding Fender Rhodes solo).

Watermelon Man continues the funky feeling and rhythm, this time joined by an African approach to the music. More amusing Fender Rhodes interventions, combined with a very extensive use of the sax and some bizarre flutes used as both intro and outro to the piece.

Sly represents one of the most experimental sections of the album, here we have a glimpse of Miles Davies' approach added to the funky rhythms and some jamming in the vein of Chamaleon. After some landscapes as an introduction , the sax takes the predominant role for about half of the track to produce one of its most impressive participations on the album, to be replaced by Hancock's schizoid electric piano playing for the rest of the piece. The sax and electric piano performances are very wild and show the great amount of virtuosity of the musicians involved.

Vein Melter is a slow, "spacey" piece featuring more electric piano, some brass and a less dynamic/more laid back rhythm section. And to please the mellotron enthusiasts in this site, we have brief appearances of this highly regarded instrument.

The highlights of Head Hunters are, first of all, the bass and percussions. Next we have the more than tasteful keyboard work of Hancock, and we cannot neglect the amusing brass appearances.

This one as a funk or funk-jazz album deserves 5 stars, but as a progressive rock or fusion album we have to reconsider.

Total: 3.45

3 stars for a great (but not excellent), adventurous, highly addictive, never dull and innovative work. A bit raw and definitively far away from the best in terms of writing skills and final output. Nonetheless, this is one of the most enjoyable 3 star albums ever.

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars About a year after recording the highly experimental Sextant, Hancock decided to abandon the commercially unsuccessful path of the 'Mwandishi' albums. He surrounded himself with a new band and injected his high standard jazz wizardry with funky grooves and sparser improvisations. Melody is largely sacrificed in favor of the prominent groove, which makes this a less favorable release amongst prog audiences.

The opening Chameleon is the track to get here. It's a popular and absolutely infectious funk groove with catchy hooks aplenty. Halfway in it settles for a dub groove with a cool jazzy vibe. It's often criticized because of its 'cheap' synth-bass riff but it's simply magnificent. Hancock sure knows how to recognize a catchy tune if he sees one.

The remainder of the album has a hard time catching up with this track but remains mostly very good and enjoyable. Watermelon Man has a slow beat, almost like hiphop in a way, arranged very sparsely with some African flutes. Sly is a lot busier, with a elaborate rhythmical interplay between bass, Hancock's processed rhodes piano and the mind-blowing drums. This track seems to go on endlessly and I must say I enjoy it better while doing the dusting then when actually sitting and listening to it. Vein Melter is spacier, with a slow dub rhythm and reverbed rhodes piano, some effects and a nice brass melodies to round it off. Nice one.

Hancock sure boosted his popularity with this album, and that is entirely deserved for such strong and simultaneously accessible music. 3.5 stars, not because it isn't 'progressive' but simply because it weighs decisively less then the preceding Mwandishi albums which were all excellent or better.

Review by JLocke
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.

Review by thehallway
5 stars Probably the grooviest album ever.

Herbie Hancock is one of the many jazz pianists who 'went electric' and experimented with synthesizers, and his output from this very progressive period is some of the best jazz in this vein. But Head Hunters is less complex and airy than the Miles-influenced albums before it, and successfully combines clever, fresh sounds with commercial appeal and funk grooves. It was influenced by funk and in turn, influenced more funk (not to mention being sampled by thousands of rappers). But even hardcore fusion fans will enjoy the colourful textures and rhythms employed here; there's more substance in the album than some haters will make out.

'Chameleon' has that famous ARP Synthesizer bass line, which provides a basis to most of the track. Drums, african percussion, clavinets, basses and electric pianos are gradually added, with the doubled-up sax handling the main melody. One of the highlights of this extended groove is the reverb- drenched synth solo in the middle, which outclasses a lot of those by prog-rock keyboardists! The most popular track 'Watermelon Man' is a completely new take on the 60's classic, with the rather innovative beer-bottle blowing and vocal bursts serving as a tribal introduction to a very urban piece. It's the shortest song on the album but they squeeze a lot in.

Side two is less immediately accessible, which is a good thing to have in balance with the almost radio- worthy first side; it gives the album artistic depth. 'Sly' is a very fast, frantic and crazy piece driven by the percussion and drumming. The rhythms get very complex but never leave the 4/4 time signature, instead stretching it to it's limits, while the Fender Rhodes and sax add their charm in a way that combines the influence of Sly and the Family Stone and Miles Davis. Meanwhile 'Vein Melter', which sounds German but I've no idea what it means', is contrastingly laid back and cool, with bursts of melody from various instruments adding tone colour to the continuous, bolero-esque beat. There's less to cling on to for a listener here, but the piece is an enjoyable, atmospheric journey nonetheless.

The highlight of this album is the range of colourful sounds and textures that are employed, combined with very clean, pristine production. This gives it a positively urban feel despite the African influences. The rhythms are to die for and Hancock's playing is subtly brilliant. I think there's a good balance of moods, although not in any single song, making the album work better when played right through. In short, there's more to explore here than some would have you believe. Even if it's less adventurous then Crossings or Sextant, it makes up for that in sheer musical quality.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars While Herbie Hancock is one of the most talented jazz keyboard players, his fusion, while very popular, leaves much to be desired. Compared to the great fusion bands of the seventies, Return To Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Brand X, to name a few, Hancock's fusion is terribly simplistic and repetitious. The music is much more grounded in straight funk than most fusion. Perhaps that explains the commercial success of this one.

The opening track, Chameleon is essentially one simple funk riff, played repeatedly, with a break at the end of each section. The jam takes off, gets quite good, but never enters into the realm of great. And long before the song's fifteen minute mark, you may find yourself longing for the ending.

Watermelon Man, originally on Hancock's "Takin' Off" album in 1962, was by this time a jazz standard. The version here is slightly funkier, and a bit slower than the original, and to my ears, far inferior.

Sly is more in the line of Miles Davis' brand of fusion, and is in effect, nuch better than the first two tracks. Both the rhythm tracks and the soloing are much more accomplished, and more enjoyable than the first side of the album.

Vein Melter closes the album with a very smooth piece, that almost gets marred by Hancock's string synths, and some just odd sounding patches.

I know this is though of as a classic, but while containing some nice moments, it's really just barely average.

Review by Chicapah
5 stars In many ways I equate Herbie Hancock with the legendary Bob Dylan as far as being an enormous influence on the evolution of modern music. Dylan courageously followed his personal muse wherever she led without question or resistance, oftentimes to the consternation of his legion of followers and, in the process, forced what seemed to be conflicting genres to not only cohabitate but to compliment each other. In the early 70s Herbie realized that the burgeoning phenomenon known as funk (at that time budding in both the rock and the R&B territories) wasn't just a flash-in-the-pan craze and that, if handled properly, could be brought into the realm of 20th century jazz. Both artists suffered much critical grief from conservative traditionalists for their bold experimentations involving what were considered sacred cows yet their quests for creative fulfillment overrode any fears of exile from popular acceptance and now, in perspective, they are rightly heralded as pioneers who not only broke down barriers but opened up new territories for musicians the world over to migrate into.

In the case of this, the debut album from Hancock's "Headhunters" group, it is rightly considered to be one of (if not THE) vanguard recordings that gave birth to funk/rock jazz fusion. Despite having worked with some of the greatest jazz players in history during the sixties Herbie began to feel stymied musically and wanted to wade into uncharted waters to see what kind of ripples he could instigate. He put together a five-piece ensemble of like-minded explorers and set out to carve out a rebellious niche in the institution of progressive music. On October 13, 1973 this album hit the record store racks and, as they say, the rest is history. It appealed to fans of a wide variety of styles and, in its own humble way, made jazz music in general more palatable for millions who had always considered it to be too high-brow and, therefore, repelling because of its elitism. Not intending to be condescending in any manner, this was music even commoners could relate to.

Starting off with "Chameleon," Hancock's ultra funky synthesizer bass line efficiently reels you into the boat as the rest of the band joins in one at a time before the song's playful melody arrives and solidifies the deal. Herbie steps up into the spotlight first with an adventurous synth ride but, as wild as it is, he never allows it to run amok and overshadow the imminent groove. After Paul Jackson's bass and Harvey Mason's drums alter the landscape a bit Hancock smoothes things out and delivers a cool Rhodes piano solo. The tune is very structured so it's not simply a jam session but a well-arranged piece of exquisite jazz. "Watermelon Man" (a number Herbie composed and published back in '62) follows and it's a fine example of letting a song build up from humble beginnings (percussionist Bill Summers imitating primitive African pipes by blowing into an empty beer bottle) to eventually walk upright in its melodic fullness. One is struck by the group's ability to achieve subtlety without sacrificing the essential momentum generated by the solid rhythm track laid down by Jackson and Mason. The tune gracefully exits as it entered.

"Sly," (a tribute to Mr. Stone and his family) is next and while it's more ethereal in nature it never veers off the beaten path so much as to become inaccessible to the jazz neophyte. Strong dynamics lead to the underrated Bennie Maupin's hot soprano saxophone lead that streaks atop fast-paced drums, clavinet and congas. Hancock's penetrating electric piano then enters the fray with great enthusiasm yet I would encourage the listener to pay special attention to what Harvey is doing on his trap set beneath it all. His superb drumming motivates and encourages the whole number as it escalates to a furious pitch. They end with "Vein Melter" wherein a single bass drum beat initiates a mysterious atmosphere that grows to be inhabited by floating soprano sax, delicate Rhodes piano and airy synthesizer lines. Herbie expertly exploits the surreal tremolo effect indigenous to the mighty Rhodes brand of keyboard instrumentation and, especially if you experience the track via headphones, you'll be treated to its unique mind-swirling quality up close and personal.

It had been a good while since I'd given this album a focused listen and I was surprised to find that I'd forgotten how intricate and clever the presentation is. The engineering involved was flawless, making it sound like it could have been recorded last week rather than almost four decades ago and that helps the material remain fresh and invigorating. Herbie was one of the first to take funk from being something folks were toying around with in jazz circles out of curiosity and make it the centerpiece of a new language rising into the vernacular from the streets and systematically infiltrating the sacred halls of the institution known as jazz. This landmark recording planted a big, fluttering funk flag on the shores of American music and, even though many of the natives didn't know what to make of it, Hancock and his cohorts' definitive act paved the way for a flood of eager settlers to move right in and set up shop.

Review by Warthur
5 stars Sextant was dazzling, make no mistake about it, but with Head Hunters Herbie goes for a change of approach, injecting horse doctors' doses of funk into the mix, scaling back the more abstract space rock-inspired passages radically, and getting a new backing lineup to really bring the sound of the album together. Particular props have to go to Paul Jackson's bass work - a fat, meaty bass sound being absolutely vital to any funk undertaking - as well as the completely off the wall percussion work of Bill Summers, who brings a truckload of different instruments to bear. But more or less every performer has their moment in the spotlight here - Bennie Maupin's flute performances are a particular treat - and of course Herbie's synths and keyboards are a constant presence. It's a bit of an abrupt gear shift after the Mwandishi albums, but it's an undeniably successful one.
Review by Sinusoid
4 stars The textbook example of how to sell out and yet keep your musical dignity intact.

I'll go on record saying that SEXTANT might be my favourite album that Herbie Hancock put out, let alone one of his highest artistic triumphs. That artistic accomplishment didn't exactly translate into financial security. And I'm sure that the well-established powerhouse in Columbia Records wanted something that had more commercial viability. In essence, Hancock took a gamble by striking the Mwandishi concept after three albums, reducing the lineup of his band to just five, and taking pages out of Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder as a foundation for his next sonic approach.

HEAD HUNTERS is the resultant album of which most people that know of Herbie Hancock will register in their brains immediately. The music of HEAD HUNTERS is a counterbalance between jazz that the musicians are used to and funk, one of the music styles all the rage back when the album premiered. You could draw parallels to Hancock's career and Miles Davis's at the time, since Davis had notably ON THE CORNER as his big album at the time, another jazz record with strong funk leanings.

In all honesty, despite the more commercial approach the Headhunters (that will be the band name for a time) are going in, the album does retain most of the magic that made SEXTANT special. For starters, Bennie Maupin is the only other holdover from the Mwandishi lineup, a move that almost seems like common sense given how much character Maupin's reeds add to a piece of music (here, hear ''Sly''). Hancock's interpretation of funk crosses over well into the jazz world to the point where ''Chameleon'' is a new jazz standard despite the jam having heavy foreshadowing to hip hop. Where HEAD HUNTERS excels at is setting up a good groove and building on it without overstaying its welcome. It's why ''Chameleon'' has success in the first place, but the rapid fire section of ''Sly'' and the mid-tempo lock groove of a remake of ''Watermelon Man'' add to the overall appeal.

I would say HEAD HUNTERS has more funk in it than jazz, so the classic jazz fans might be turned off. Yet, any fan of jazz in a retro fashion will find this more than acceptable; especially those with more rock, funk and hip hop backgrounds. For me, the only reason HEAD HUNTERS is not an enjoyable masterpiece is that ''Vein Melter'' is significantly weaker than everything else on the album.

Review by Progfan97402
5 stars Herbie Hancock retooled the musical direction he headed for Head Hunters, realizing that people weren't buying his Mwandishi-era albums (I'm sure the same reason a fan of later Tangerine Dream is likely to be scared off of Zeit). It's those albums were a bit over the heads of mainstream listeners. Look, Mwandishi, Crossings, and Sextant were hardly made for mainstream listeners, and since my tastes are not exactly mainstream, I have no problem with these albums and really enjoy them a lot. Hancock simply formed a new band, although retaining Bennie Maupin from the old lineup.

It's nice to see Herbie Hancock did not dumb down his music to reach a wider audience, although Head Hunters is an admittedly more accessible, but instead of doing something overly mainstream, he adopts a funk approach. Certainly funky tendencies showed up on Sextant, particularly on "Hornets" with the funky blaxploitation-type drumming and clavinet, but it often veered on the avant garde. "Chameleon" is the most recognized song on this album and you can imagine tons of rap DJs sampling this song. There's this wonderful funky approach as well as more fusion-oriented passages. He then totally does a drastic remake of "Watermelon Man". If you've heard the 1962 original, with the piano and horns, you can't deny how catchy it is. I even find this song enjoyable even though I was never a fan of his Blue Note-era albums (I couldn't get into them, but I can see many jazz fans would enjoy them so I don't bother reviewing them since they're perfectly good albums I am unable to connect with). This 1973 remake is drastically different with odd Africal rhythms and strange whistle or bottle sounds, and the music updated for electric piano and clavinet. You might have to listen to this several times to notice that the familiar theme does creep up, it's certainly not in that straightforward piano and horn-dominated style of the original. Fusion fans are really going to be blown away with "Sly", an obvious tribute to Sly & the Family Stone. The band really gets into a really intense jam, but the funk influences Hancock has adopted for this album are ever present. "Vein Melter" is the closing piece and the closest to the previous sound you'll get, in fact Bennie Maupin's sax playing was more in lines with what was heard in Crossings. Going for this more accessible funk-influenced fusion certainly helped Herbie Hancock big time. It definitely prevented him from being dropped from Columbia Records (I'm certain had he recorded another album like Sextant, Columbia would have likely dropped him). I really find nothing to fault Head Hunters, it's very much a classic, and it did not require many listens to be amazed by it either!

Review by Kempokid
4 stars My previous review of John Coltrane's Giant Steps gave me the idea to theme the next few reviews of mine around looking into the common entry points for jazz , so the obvious next step in my eyes was to review what is basically the quintessential entry point into jazz fusion and overall one of the most accessible jazz albums in general. I feel that part of the reason for the approachable nature of the album comes from how hard the album leans into funk throughout, leading to a plethora of incredibly fun, catchy moments that offset the more improvisational moments that often seem to be what will push away newcomers to the genre. It's made all the better by the fact that it does this while also just sounding great in general, still sounding like an intricate, well put together album, just one that's very immediate in its appeal.

The album starts off with what is very comfortably the best track, Chameleon, immediately drawing the listener in with it's masterful bassline, which while quite simple also carries such an insane groove to it that I find it hard to not immediately love it. This is further accentuated by the way that every other component of the song serves almost purely as ways to further elevate the bass of this, making an already great aspect of the song feel that much better. I also noticed that this track does the same thing as another classic Hancock song, Cantaloupe Island, where the tempo steadily increases, but does it in a subtle enough way that it's completely plausible to not pick up on this, but still feel as if it's intensifying. Watermelon Man is a more traditionally jazzy song, with a lot more focus one just jamming out, with a lot of the funkier aspects still being there, but nowhere near as prominent, accompanying the other elements rather than being the core focus of it. All in all very fun and chilled out, I like the instrumentation choices as well, with the broad range of percussion such as the surdo and agogo bells giving it quite a unique sound.

After the more slow paced nature of Watermelon Man, Sly goes for the completely opposite approach, being blisteringly fast paced and intense, the initial groove quickly being abandoned for wild interplay that feels as if it keeps spiralling further and further out of control. While not as amazingly crafted as Chameleon, depending on the day this honestly surpasses it for me, although barely, especially with how smoothly it transitions back into the melody from its intro, bringing it all together extremely nicely. The album closes off with Vein Melter, a track I find both great but also a bit disappointing, being far more conventionally jazz fusion compared to the extremely fun funkiness of everything else here. I also feel like for something with a title as cool sounding as Vein Melter, the lack of intensity here is a bit of a letdown. Even so, this is definitely one that grows on you, initially feeling quite boring, but gradually revealing its greatness, especially in how relaxing it is, bringing the album to a close in what's probably not the most representative way, but it still works regardless and serves as a cool down after the intensity of Sly.

In the end, this works incredibly well as an entry point into jazz fusion and even jazz in general, with a great amount of variation in between the 4 tracks keeping things fresh, while also ensuring that it all sticks to a consistent sound and aesthetic, giving some cohesion to the variation. This is just a very consistent fun time that's honestly something I consider essential to demonstrate the more accessible side of the genre, so I strongly recommend this extremely vibrant, colourful album.

Best tracks: Chameleon, Sly

Weakest tracks: Though still great, Vein Melter is a bit weaker than the rest.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Herbie's first studio album since decommissioning his Mwandishi project. Herbie is stated to have said that he was tired of the spacey, high-end stuff and just wanted to bring it back down to Earth with some funk. It is important when listening to this album to remember how influential it was: both to other artists as well as on the tastes of the popular ear; this was, after all, at the time (until the 1976 phenomenon of George Benson's Breezin'), the highest selling jazz album of all-time!

1. "Chameleon" (15:41) the opening funk bass sound and line lets us know right off the bat what's going to be different about this music compared to the famous "Mwandishi sound" of Herbie's previous three years of work: Funk is paramount here. The problem here is how long Herbie stays affixed to a particular pattern and motif: it's as if it takes him 30 measures to get the feel of a pattern enough to be able to play within much less diverge or solo above it. I don't know if the rhythm section (or engineer) realized that they were speeding up in the sixth minute, beneath Herbie's funky ARP Soloist solo, but it's awkward for a bit until they all return to the pocket. At 7:40 there is a reset to let Paul Jackson and Harvey Mason reset their rhythm pattern. Now we're in Fender Rhodes territory--the soundscape that will become BOB JAMES' standard/go-to palette. Paul and percussionist Bill Summers start playing off one another, which is highly entertaining despite Herbie supposedly being in the lead up top. Harvey's innovative use of the hi-hat here might also have served to influence all future Disco drummers. I prefer this middle section to the opening one. At the 12-minute mark there is a reset bridge with those rich ARP strings and panning Fender Rhodes play. J-R Fuse Heaven! Now this is where Smooth Jazz came from! At 13:15 there is another reset bridge that allows the band to restart the opening motif. Here Bennie Maupin finally gets some front-time on his tenor sax. Nice. A song that contains so much innovation I can't justify down-rating it despite my not really liking the majority of it. (27/30)

2. "Watermelon Man" (6:29) a very popular song that is denigrated by the fact that to me it is a very thinly-veiled revisitation on Dobie Gray's big hit from 1964 (a Billy Page compostion), "The 'In' Crowd." Then there is the presence at the opening and ending of the odd breath and voice percussion (what would probably inspire a whole generation of Bobby McFerrins. (8.875/10)

3. "Sly" (10:18) a reference to he of the Family Stone? What starts out deceptively in some disarray becomes, quite suddenly, at the two-minute mark, a meteoric flight through high altitude with bass, drums, percussion, and clavinet all rushing wildly along in a very loose weave beneath Bennie Maupin's wild soprano saxophone play. Then Herbie gets a turn on his Fender electric piano. The man is so smooth! Paul Jackson's low end bass play paired up with Harvey Mason's hi-hat and cymbal work is pure genius! Somebody (Bennie Maupin) must be playing the clavinet beneath/alongside Herbie's two-handed Fender Rhodes exposition. I have to admit that I'd never really appreciated the drumming of Harvey Mason before this--cuz I'd never heard anything quite like this before. High marks for the extraordinary work of that dynamic middle section.(19/20)

4. "Vein Melter" (9:10) It would seem here that Harvey's semi-automatic militaristic snare and hi-hat riff would run contrary to the somber, etheric world being created by the rest of the band, but somehow it all works (except the ARP sounds: they sound so dated!) My favorite part is hearing Bennie Maupin playing with such feeling and emotion without having to blast it or even raise his "voice." Also, you can hear here the reverberating Fender Rhodes electric piano sound that everybody will be using over the next ten years: KOOL AND THE GANG "Summer Madness," Donald Fagen/STEELY DAN, BOZ SCAGGS Silk Degrees and so many more. (17.5/20)

Total Time 41:38

Thrust is my favorite Herbie album.

A-/five stars; a minor-masterpiece (and landmark album) of Jazz-Rock Fusion.

Latest members reviews

5 stars Review #41! Oh, Herbie. To this day I have heard nothing like his magnum opus, 'Headhunters'. Combining many different musical elements to Herbie Hancock's composing, 'Headhunters', I find, is the divine culmination of all he can offer (while maybe not the most progressive). Using somewhat obs ... (read more)

Report this review (#2901799) | Posted by Boi_da_boi_124 | Saturday, March 25, 2023 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Released in 1973, this is perhaps more jam and loose oriented music than one would expect from jazz fusion. The addition of funk should be neither surprising nor distracting as Hancock's primary mission is to record a solid album with jazz-trained musicians who share the affinity to funk and fus ... (read more)

Report this review (#2896269) | Posted by sgtpepper | Saturday, March 4, 2023 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I discovered this wee jem of an album in my local Extravision for only £3, and thankfully i had a couple of other 'proghead' friends of mine with me who knew who he was and recomended this album to me, and i have to admit i feel bad for just paying £3 for it, this is a great wee album, a classic ... (read more)

Report this review (#290098) | Posted by FarBeyondProg | Monday, July 12, 2010 | Review Permanlink

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