Herbie Hancock – Headhunter – 4.5/5
Where most of the jazz artists can be easily placed, this album highlights a number of different styles, as though he couldn’t decide which he liked best. Including the funky opener ‘chameleon,’ the ‘kitchen sink’ sounding ‘Watermelon Man,’ the chaotic keyboards in ‘Sly,’ and ending with a smooth and calm ‘Vein Melter.’ Whilst the sheer number of styles is impressive – each with ample creativity squeezed into a little over 40 minutes – one can’t perhaps feel inclined to prefer one over the other. Nonetheless, this serves as a testament to just how much this genre has to offer.
The first release of Hancock’s new band, “The Headhunters,” it features Hancock on the keyboards, a bassist, drummer, a saxophone/flutist and a percussionist. Curiously though, this album marks a departure from the normal tradition of a guitarist, but with the combination of exceptional bass work, and the sheer variety of instrumentation this fact becomes unnoticeable. Most prominent on the opening track, the bassist nonetheless is capable of providing a deep funky groove, or sustaining a bass rhythm when needed. The flutes and saxophones often find themselves working off of the keyboards in a creative manner, occasionally being perhaps a little too far back, resulting in a more ambient and atmospheric tone, failing to draw focus. In fact, most of the instruments feel laid back (with the exception of in ‘sly,’ with a far more chaotic tone), with the various percussion instruments adding a new variation on the old sound.
And now I apologise, for I fail to see how I can convey everything present here without a track-by-track analysis. The opener sees a deep funk groove and an apt name, each instrument playing a base rhythm, allowing a particular element its time to shine. This allows for a constant variation in style, whilst never losing its original shape. Following this is the famous ‘Watermelon Man,’ (a funkier remake of the ’62 original), with bizarre instrumentation from bongo’s to beer bottles, unique in that each element is completely dynamic, intersecting and weaving, playing individual pieces throughout. Its only here that the quality takes a small dive, with a rather chaotic ‘Sly,’ with crazy keyboards, sudden loud interruptions and psychopathic sax playing, its just as well the album closes on a rather more calming track.
The intention of this album was for Herbie Hancock to depart from his ‘spacier’ previous albums, and return to earthier, deeper, funkier roots. This may be a relatively short album, but accomplish this he has. With more creativity oozing out of each track than would normally be found in an album, this has to be a highlight for the jazz fusion genre.
Highlights: Chameleon, Watermelon Man