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…
Opening with the Head Hunters version of "Watermelon Man" and closing with the electro-embracing crossover hit, "Rockit," Mr. Funk is a semi-random skip across Hancock's Columbia recordings, and it technically spans 1973-1983 (at least going by release dates), rather than the 1972-1988 range printed on its cover.
Beyond category or idiom, audacious in its very idea, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter perform a little over an hour of spontaneous improvised duets for grand piano and soprano sax. That's all no synthesizers, no rhythm sections, just wistful, introspective, elevated musings between two erudite old friends that must have made the accountants at PolyGram reach for their Mylanta. Hancock's piano is long on complex harmonies of the most cerebral sort, occasionally breaking out into a few agitated passages of dissonance. His technique in great shape, Shorter responds with long-limbed melodies, darting responses to Hancock's lashings, and occasional painful outcries of emotion.
This disc is a bit unusual in a few ways. Vibraphonist Dave Pike sticks here exclusively to the marimba, while pianist Herbie Hancock is heard throughout on organ, an instrument he rarely played again. The band also includes two trumpeters (most notably Clark Terry who has a few short solos) and a rhythm section with guitarist Billy Butler. Most of the music consists of obscurities and is open to the influences of the boogaloo and pop rhythms of the era; highlights include Hancock's "Blind Man, Blind Man," "Sunny" and "Devilette." An interesting effort.
Mirroring his onetime boss and mentor Miles Davis' own protean output, Herbie Hancock has explored hard bop, soul-jazz, fusion, funk-rock, soundtracks, hip-hop-inflected pop ("Rockit"), and many permutations in between. His early work for Blue Note, though, offers the best entrée for newcomers. Compiled from five of his albums for the label and covering a period from 1962-1968, this fine sampler includes highlights from his debut, Takin' Off ("Watermelon Man"), the classic Maiden Voyage (the title track and "Dolphin Dance"), and the early electric album Speak Like a Child (the title track and "Riot"). Add to this more indelible cuts like "Cantaloupe Island" and "One Finger Snap," not to mention the presence of numerous '60s jazz luminaries (Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Thad Jones, Hank Mobley, Billy Higgins, et al.), and you have perfect way to get a taste of some of the best modern jazz committed to wax.