Herbie Hancock – Headhunters ★★★★★

Columbia/Legacy Herbie Hancock (kys), Harvey Mason (d), Paul Jackson (el b), Benny Maupin (ts, b clt) and Bill Summers (perc).

Rec. 1973

This reissue might seem superfluous given the fact that every self-respecting home should surely already have a copy of Headhunters. And yet even for the most diehard Hancock fan who has heard the opening Moog bass tumble of ‘Chameleon’ a thousand times before, there is still something thrilling, if not joyous, about listening to the same notes wheel into action for the one thousand and first time, simply because the piece arguably represents in earnest the birth of jazz-funk as opposed to jazz-rock.The remaining three tracks, ‘Sly’, ‘Watermelon Man’ and ‘Vein Melter’ are similarly rich in creative substance, above all in the way that they slide so seamlessly into Afro-Latin rhythms from a point of departure in the blues.

The influence of soul iconoclasts Sly & The Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and Parliament is writ large on Herbie’s groove sensibilities as well as on his overall sonic trickery but at the core of everything is both an incredibly cohesive ensemble – the Harvey Mason-Paul Jackson drums-bass axis has a peerless telepathy – and a unique ability to make music whose accessibility does not preclude ambition. The result is black pop art of the highest order.

– Kevin Le Gendre

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