JJ 06/74: Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

Fifty years ago Barry McRae applauded Hancock for producing a jazz-rock record that married sophistication and groove. First published in Jazz Journal June 1974

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For all its apparent funkiness, this music is highly formalised, with even its unison riffs worked out to ensure rhythmic accuracy. It also pays considerable atten­tion to its textures and dynamics, despite the fact that some listen­ers might think that it was re­corded at a high volume level. Like most rock/jazz units the rhythmic section is repetitive but powerfully thrusting, identical in motive to the classic New Orleans style even if totally different in concept.

The real point is that, despite claims to the contrary, the jazz/rock group, and this is an ex­cellent one, has returned the music to a situation where the rhythm section and the front line are a thing apart. This is not necessarily a bad thing and could be seen as one of the reasons why this type of jazz is reaching a wider audience. The orthodox drummer Mason is a fine performer and is responsible for the group’s considerable drive. Jackson is also a good player and although the demands on a bassist made by this type of music are not great, he shows he can swing at all tempos.

As with all jazz, however, the combo’s real merit must rest in the hands of its soloists. In this department the quintet is very fortunate to have Maupin and Hancock, who have both adjusted to this style with skill. Maupin has moved on from his early Trane influence and he has a brief but superbly simple soprano solo on Watermelon and an excellent, re­flective tenor outing on Vein Melter. Hancock is very much at home on the electric keyboards and has fine solos on Chameleon, using both clarinet and electric piano, as well as a tremendous piano solo on Sly.

Even allowing for the inherent restrictions in the medium, this record is never boring. Hancock’s reworking of his old Watermelon is quite brilliant and all the charts are extremely imaginative. The excitement that is built into Sly is well handled, never contrived and with a sense of surprise not always associated with rock/jazz. A heavenly string section, not mentioned on the sleeve, pokes in occasionally but this cannot detract from a record that avoids almost all of the snares laid to trap the less talented.

Discography
Chameleon; Watermelon Man (22¼ min) – Sly; Vein Melter (19½ min)
Bennie Maupin (ten/sop/saxello/bs-clt/flt); Herbie Hancock (el-pno/clavinet/synth/ody-synth); Paul Jackson (bs/arimbula); Harvey Mason (dm); Bill Summers (perc).
(CBS S 65928 £2.49)