Dusting Off... Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters
What is it?
Starting out with his first album Takin' Off, released in 1962 on the Blue Note imprint, pianist Herbie Hancock spent most of the 1960s churning out a series of incredible jazz albums, performing with luminaries such as Miles Davis and establishing a reputation as one of the genre's most gifted and forward-thinking musicians.
In addition to the seven studio albums he released during the 60s, he also created soundtracks for Bill Cosby's Fat Albert cartoon series and Michaelangelo Antonioni's 1967 film Blow-Up, but by the end of the decade his musical style was becoming more expansive and restless, releasing three highly experimental albums – Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant – between 1970 and 1973. Feeling the need to get back to playing something more earthy and funky, Hancock formed a new group, the Headhunters, and released the album named after them, Head Hunters, also in 1973.
Comprising just four tracks, with the longest of them clicking in at over 15 minutes in length, Head Hunters is a completely instrumental album with long, sprawling funk tracks, including a brilliant reworking of one of the most popular hits from his debut LP, 'Watermelon Man', featuring a new arrangement and an iconic intro performed by blowing into glass bottles. From the opening synth bassline to 'Chameleon' right through to the military-style drums and soundscapes of closing track 'Vein Melter', Head Hunters took Hancock into new territory, awash with funky basslines, brass and smooth electric pianos.
Why should I revisit?
Head Hunters is one of several stylistic jumps over a long career that has produced everything from jazz standards and experimental soundscapes to film soundtracks and electronic music. Hancock has proved hugely influential on a number of genres, thanks to his highly prolific levels of output and apparently limitless capacity for finding new and interesting directions. Never afraid to experiment, Hancock was one of the first musicians to embrace sampling in the early 1980s with tracks like 'Rockit' and even though Head Hunters isn't really what you would call 'classical' jazz, by the time it was re-issued in 1992 it had become the biggest selling jazz album of all time, a feat still to be surpassed.
Who will enjoy it?
If you're a fan of funk, jazz, soul or hip-hop and you've yet to really discover Herbie Hancock's music, this is an artist with an absolutely gigantic back catalogue and Head Hunters is a great place to start exploring his work.