285. Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters (1973)
2. Watermelon Man
4. Vein Melter
This is an interesting album. Hancock is creating a shit load of music styles here and he is doing it all with a confidence which makes it seem as if all these styles were very much pre-existent. This is an album which is at the same time Funky and Jazzy, being one of the most successful fusion-jazz products, it also has a whiff of trip-hop at times.
Hancock has clearly been inspired by acts like Sly and The Family Stone and one of the tracks is actually called Sly, but Hancock brings to it a whole new dimension of someone who is first and foremost a very competent composer in the Jazz field, but his Jazz is unlike anything else. Hancock is sowing the seeds of electronica here, there is no guitar in the whole album and it really isn't needed, Herb's array of synths does all the work that needs to be done in that respect.
The album is composed of only four tracks and none of them are what you could call pop, but for such a complex album it is still remarkably accessible to anyone. That is one of the reasons this was such a successful album, if you are into Jazz you can get to it but if you are into Soul, Funk or R&B you can also get into it. Other Jazz musicians have tried to make successful synthesis between popular music and Jazz, but unlike Bitches Brew by Miles Davis this is actually something you can listen to with a high degree of pleasure. Check it out. Get it at Amazon UK or US.
2. Watermelon Man
For the new album, Hancock assembled a new band, The Headhunters, of whom only Bennie Maupin had been a sextet member. Hancock handled all synthesizer parts himself (having previously shared these duties with Patrick Gleeson) and he decided against the use of guitar altogether, favouring instead the clavinet, one of the defining sounds on the album. The new band featured a tight rhythm and blues-oriented rhythm section, and the album has a relaxed, funky groove that gave the album an appeal to a far wider audience. Perhaps the defining moment of the jazz-fusion movement (or perhaps even the spearhead of the Jazz-funk style of the fusion genre), the album made jazz listeners out of rhythm and blues fans, and vice versa. The album mixes funk rhythms, like the busy high hats in 16th notes on the opening track "Chameleon" with the jazz AABA form and extended soloing.
Of the four tracks on the album "Watermelon Man" was the only one not written for the album. A hit from Hancock's hard bop days, originally appearing on his first album Takin' Off, it was reworked by Hancock and Mason and has an instantly recognisable intro featuring Bill Summers blowing into a beer bottle, an imitation of the hindewho, an instrument of the Mbuti Pygmies of Northeastern Zaire. The track features heavy use of African percussion. "Sly" was dedicated to pioneering funk musician Sly Stone, leader of Sly & the Family Stone. "Chameleon"" (the opening track) is another track with an instantly recognisable intro, the very funky bassline being played on an ARP Odyssey synth. "Vein Melter" is a slow-burner, predominantly featuring Hancock and Maupin, with Hancock mostly playing Fender Rhodes electric piano, but occasionally bringing in some heavily effected synth parts.
Chameleon, parts 1 and 2: