Album #285 – Head Hunters

Album #285

Herbie Hancock is one of the few Jazz greats still performing and releasing albums. He won the Grammy for Album of the Year a few years ago for his tribute album to Joni Mitchell called River: The Joni Letters. Hancock actually performed with Mitchell in the 1970’s. He also had a music video hit in 1983 with Rockit. This turntable scratching-laden funky jazz song’s video won several MTV Music Video Awards. Hancock’s song Cantaloupe Island was sampled by British Jazz/Rap group Us3 in their song Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia). The song ended up charting in the top 20 of the Billboard charts in 1993. And yet, Hancock is best known for his foray into the world of funk jazz with Head Hunters. There were times during the playing of this album that I thought I was hearing Billy Preston. Preston’s Outta-Space was only released the previous year, so the similarities make sense. To me, the sound throughout Head Hunters is what 70’s jazz sounds like. Clavinets, electric pianos and synthesizers are at the forefront. There are saxophones too. But, Hancock really takes a risk with this album and makes it sound amazing and fresh. I listened to side one while doing the dishes tonight and I was in awe. I couldn’t believe how funky Hancock was. It was perfect music to do dishes to: not too abrasive and it was good enough to play with the headphones off in my apartment. I also couldn’t believe I had ignored purchasing this album. It was on sale at a local music store for a good price. But, something inside me thought this album might sound different, weird and horrible. I always have that fear. But thankfully, Head Hunters was great. Each song explores a different element of this new sound Hancock was creating: Chameleon is very laid-back and sounds like it could have been done by Billy Preston or Stevie Wonder, Watermelon Man is a new version of a song Hancock recorded in the 60’s (and the sounds at the beginning and the end of this song, sound like Sesame Street on drugs). Watermelon Man was also a minor chart hit for Hancock. Sly could have been written as a tribute to Sly Stone but, the title describes the sound perfectly: sly and sneaky. The album’s final song, Vein Melter, is very dark and dreary. All of these elements combine to give this new sound of jazz music a fresh outlook. It’s no wonder several rap artists have sampled songs from Head Hunters. Even Madonna used one of the songs from this album as a sample. The next time I see this album, I will be buying it. To me, it is the best jazz album of the 1970’s bar none. Overall, I give this album 5 out of 5.

Next: Mott by Mott the Hoople

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