Sunday, October 13, 2013

40 Year Itch: Fusion Gets Funky

Instead of getting jazz cats who knew how to play funk, I got funk cats who knew how to play jazz.
-Herbie Hancock on Head Hunters

By the early 1970's Herbie Hancock had already played with Miles Davis, taken bop to new heights, and had even begun experimenting with electronic sounds. But there lingered a part of him, that just wanted to play the kind of music he was listening to on the radio.

I listened to James Brown and Sly and said "Look, I want to find out what this is, and I'm going to go as far as I can." That's why I got some cats who can play funk. I knew that I had never heard any jazz players really play funk like the funk that I had been listening to.

Hancock gathered a new group of musicians together in San Francisco. He called them The Headhunters. Sax player Bennie Maupin, a veteran of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew sessions, was the only holdover from the previous album. There was bassist Paul Jackson from Oakland. Percussionist Bill Summers from New Orleans. And drummer Harvey Mason who would later play on George Benson's Breezin' album.

From Hancock's opening synth riff on " Chameleon", you know you're in for a different kind of jazz album. In fact Head Hunters was the first jazz album to be certified gold and the best selling jazz album of all time. Fusion would never get so funky.

The album received rave reviews for finding the sweet spot between jazz and funk. All of which must have upset Miles Davis whose On the Corner ( featuring Hancock on keyboards)  mined the same territory a year earlier.

A note about the cover: Hancock is wearing a face mask inspired by the Baoule tribes of the Ivory Coast. Artist Victor Moscoso, who also worked on Zap Comix with the likes of Robert Crumb, designed the mask to look as though it were made out of studio equipment.

I don't want to go through the year without scratching the 40 year itch on Hancock's other great album Sextant, which came out in January of 1973 and features avant garde experiments with electronic sounds that are totally out of the world. 

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