Relentlessly funky, Headhunters, defined the world of jazz-funk.
In the early 70’s, jazz audiences were getting smaller, a result of jazz vearing into an experimental, avant garde direction in the 60’s. Jazz musicians were looking for ways to connect with audiences again, and many looked into other, more popular forms of black music for inspiration.
Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters album is one of the best examples of this, a fusion of jazz and funk music. The album starts with a sequenced synth-bass on the tune “Chameleon”. The moment you hear that sequenced bass, it tells you this isn’t going to be traditional jazz. Combine the funky sequenced bass with syncopated drumming, and you’ve got a funky-ass rhythm section. Hancock plays along with this on a variety of keyboards, including electric pianos, Mellotron and synths, and his playing is extremely funky. “Chameleon” is a 15-minute jam, but it works because the playing is so good, and the vibe is so funky.
The next two cuts, “Watermelon Man” and “Sly”, are funky jams. “Watermelon Man” is a well-known tune that gets the slow funk treatement. The last tune, “Vein Melter”, is slow and moody. It features some interesting echoed Fender Rhodes work, along with some synthesizer soloes.
The standout cut for synth fans, though, is “Chameleon”. While the rest of the album will interest jazz fans, on “Chameleon”, Hancock gives electronica lovers a taste of the future of electronic jazz. On Headhunters, you can hear the beginnings of hip-hop and acid jazz. Headhunters has been sampled for use in rap and hip-hop tunes, especially the first cut, Chameleon. This album is a classic fusion album, and a great example of electronics in jazz.