2 LP on 1 CD
## 1 - 4, 'Head Hunters', Columbia, (5*), 1973
Head Hunters was a pivotal point in Herbie Hancock's career, bringing him into the vanguard of jazz fusion. Hancock had pushed avant-garde boundaries on his own albums and with Miles Davis, but he had never devoted himself to the groove as he did on Head Hunters. Drawing heavily from Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, and James Brown, Hancock developed deeply funky, even gritty, rhythms over which he soloed on electric synthesizers, bringing the instrument to the forefront in jazz. It had all of the sensibilities of jazz, particularly in the way it wound off into long improvisations, but its rhythms were firmly planted in funk, soul, and R&B, giving it a mass appeal that made it the biggest-selling jazz album of all time (a record which was later broken). Jazz purists, of course, decried the experiments at the time, but Head Hunters still sounds fresh and vital two decades after its initial release, and its genre-bending proved vastly influential on not only jazz, but funk, soul, and hip-hop.
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine (All Music Guide)
## 5 - 8, 'Thrust', (4*), Columbia/Legac,1974
The follow-up to the breakthrough Headhunters album was virtually as good as its wildly successful predecessor: an earthy, funky, yet often harmonically and rhythmically sophisticated tour de force. There is only one change in the Headhunters lineup - swapping drummer Harvey Mason for Mike Clark - and the switch results in grooves that are even more complex. Hancock continues to reach into the rapidly changing high-tech world for new sounds, most notably the metallic sheen of the then-new ARP string synthesizer which was already becoming a staple item on pop and jazz-rock records. Again, there are only four long tracks, three of which ("Palm Grease," "Actual Proof," "Spank-A-Lee") concentrate on the funk, with plenty of Hancock's wah-wah clavinet, synthesizer textures and effects, and electric piano ruminations that still venture beyond the outer limits of post-bop. The change-of-pace is one of Hancock's loveliest electric pieces, "Butterfly," a match for any tune he's written before or since, with shimmering synth textures and Bennie Maupin soaring on soprano (Hancock would re-record it 20 years later on Dis Is Da Drum, but this is the one to hear). This supertight jazz-funk quintet album still sounds invigorating a quarter of a century later.
- Richard S. Ginell (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
This is the album that busted it all wide open for an entire generation of jaz-zoids. Myself included. The largest selling jazz album in history, Head Hunters now enjoys platinum status. But more than that, it sounds as fresh and funky as it did nearly two decades ago.
"A lot of hip hop artists are taking from Head Hunters," Herbie Hancock ponders. "I guess it points to the idea that the roots of hip hop are in these kinds of albums. Once they heard that 'Chameleon' and 'Watermelon Man' fit right in there, they realized that that's where it really came from."
Born April 12, 1940, in Chicago, Herbie Hancock began studying piano at the age of seven. Classically trained, he later formed his own jazz ensemble in high school. Eventually he was giggin' with Coleman Hawkins and Donald Byrd. In 1963, Herbie hooked up with Miles Davis.
"It wasn't so much about what Miles said that taught me. It was mostly what he eft / that taught me. He didn't have to say a lot about music in order to be an influence on you. Just by his playing...you learned a lot." Herbie played keyboards for Miles for five years. The respect is mutual. "He was such a great listener and had a great ability to be able to use the ideas that came from what the other sidemen played." Hancock explains, "He would integrate all of that in his own solos and make it sound like true intervention. He would react to what we were playing. That was one thing that really impressed me about Miles' playing. I've tried to incorporate that in my music." The funky magic is evident on Head Hunters. "One of Miles' greatest abilities was to be able to take a composition apart and take all the fat off of it, leave the lean, and leave a lot of room for improvisation. Like 'Chameleon,' there's not a lot in there. There's a lot of space."
Head Hunters was on the cutting edge of the revolutionary changes that jazz music was going through in the early 70s. Jazz players were moving from the smaller clubs to larger arenas. The sound became electric. "Why not? Jazz is eclectic... Why can't it borrow from rock 'n' roll? Some musicians decided to incorporate some of the rock elements into jazz. That brought about what was later called 'fusion.'" Herbie's Head Hunters also added the colors of Africa to their music. "I don't think we'd have rock 'n' roll or pop music in any form without Africa. The roots of the music came from there."
Hancock remembers back to the inception of Head Hunters. "I wanted to actually do kind of a funk album. I didn't know it was going to be a combination of jazz and funk at the time that we started off. As it evolved, I liked what it was. Benny (Maupin) was a multi-instrument player and I wanted to have something that had a lot of colors. Benny played all the woodwinds."
"Harvey Mason was recommended to me by Billy Hart. He said if I ever wanted to do something that was in the rock-funk area, that Harvey was the one to get. He covered a wide area and was a creative player. Every beat on the album was original. He created his own funk. That beat on 'Chameleon,' nobody ever played that before. And Harvey swings his tail off! He plays with a lot of dynamics and that's missing in a lot of funk."
Herbie's other band members include Paul Jackson (bass) and Bill Summers (percussion). "Paul was a suggestion from David Rubinson, the manager/producer. Paul lived in the San Francisco Bay area. He also played both jazz and funk... a very original player. Bill Summers also lived nearby. He studied ethnomusicology, specializing in African music. He's got all these concepts from African music that are really new to us."
While the late '60s-early 70s was overwhelmed with screaming guitars, a la Jimi Hendrix, Hancock took a different approach. "The one thing that made this album original, was the fact that I didn't have a guitar. The guitar was extremely popular back then in pop music, but I had heard about the clavinet. It had a guitar-like sound, like a cross between a guitar and a harpsichord. I thought maybe if I played the clavinet in a rhythmic way like a guitar, I wouldn't have to use a guitar player. That's what I did."
"Sly," "Vein Melter," "Watermelon Man" and the classic "Chameleon" made up this masterpiece which has withstood the test of time." 'Sly' was for Sly Stone. It's dedicated to Sly... but it wasn't designed to indicate that the tune was influenced by his music or anything like that. Miles had a major influence on Head Hunters. Especially on tunes like 'Sly' and 'Vein Melter.1 There was a very open approach in the improvisations and in the structures in the tunes that allow for a lot of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic freedom."
"Watermelon Man" was something Herbie had done with Donald Byrd about a decade earlier. "The album was a collaborative effort. Harvey Mason thought we should do a new version of 'Watermelon Man.' The conception was basically his. Except the beginning of the tune, that was Bill Summers' idea. The intro was actually from Pygmy music with Bill blowing in a beer bottle and making a melodic, rhythmic thing."
And then of course there's the familiar, funky hit "Chameleon." "That tune was a combination of me coming up with the line and an idea that came from my former manager David Rubinson, who produced the record. The bass line is the real key to it and the melody is very simple. It's based on a two note motif... actually, it's one note repeated. Simplicity is almost always better. You can get simplicity out of complexity if you're clever enough. That's how you get complexity over to the general public... to put it in a simple form."
Head Hunters was the vehicle that opened the eyes of many to jazz. It was a funky crossover bridge to the other side. It never ceases to amaze me, the full circle music (life) can take. Keyboard master Herbie Hancock provided us with the classic jazz standards "Maiden Voyage" (his own personal favorite) and "Dolphin Dance." Yet the boundaries of his creativity have no limits.
"When I first started with music, I started with classical music, but I never said I was going to stay with just that. My roots are in jazz, but that's the best foundation to have in order to jump off into other areas."
Head Hunters blazed new trails on the inroads of jazz. Today, its guiding light continues to inspire the vision of tomorrow.
- Scott H. Thompson