Herbert Jeffrey Hancock (born April 12, 1940) is an American jazz pianist, keyboardist, bandleader, composer, and occasional actor. Hancock started his career with trumpeter Donald Byrd’s group. He shortly thereafter joined the Miles Davis Quintet, where he helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section and was one of the primary architects of the post-bop sound. In the 1970s, Hancock experimented with jazz fusion, funk, and electro styles, utilizing a wide array of synthesizers and electronics. It was during this period that he released perhaps his best-known and most influential album, Head Hunters.
Head Hunters is the twelfth studio album by American pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, released October 26, 1973, on Columbia Records. Recording sessions for the album took place in the evening at Wally Heider Studios and Different Fur Trading Co. in San Francisco, California. The album was a commercial and artistic breakthrough for Hancock, crossing over to funk and rock audiences and bringing jazz-funk fusion to mainstream attention, peaking at number 13 on the Billboard 200.
Head Hunters followed a series of experimental albums by Hancock's sextet: Mwandishi, Crossings, and Sextant, released between 1971 and 1973, a time when Hancock was looking for a new direction in which to take his music:
I began to feel that I had been spending so much time exploring the upper atmosphere of music and the more ethereal kind of far-out spacey stuff. Now there was this need to take some more of the earth and to feel a little more tethered; a connection to the earth. ... I was beginning to feel that we (the sextet) were playing this heavy kind of music, and I was tired of everything being heavy. I wanted to play something lighter. — Hancock's sleeve notes: 1997 CD reissue
For the new album, Hancock assembled a new band, the Headhunters, of whom only Bennie Maupin had been a sextet member. Hancock handled all synthesizer parts himself (having previously shared these duties with Patrick Gleeson) and he decided against the use of guitar altogether, favoring instead the clavinet, one of the defining sounds on the album. The new band featured a tight rhythm and blues-oriented rhythm section composed of Paul Jackson (bass) and Harvey Mason (drums), and the album has a relaxed, funky groove that gave the album an appeal to a far wider audience. Perhaps the defining moment of the jazz-fusion movement (or perhaps even the spearhead of the Jazz-funk style of the fusion genre), the album made jazz listeners out of rhythm and blues fans, and vice versa. The album mixes funk rhythms, like the busy high hats in 16th notes on the opening track "Chameleon", with the jazz AABA form and extended soloing.
Of the four tracks on the album "Watermelon Man" was the only one not written for the album. A hit from Hancock's hard bop days, originally appearing on his first album Takin' Off (1962), it was reworked by Hancock and Mason and has an instantly recognizable intro featuring Bill Summers blowing into a beer bottle, an imitation of the hindewho, an instrument of the Mbuti Pygmies of Northeastern Zaire (this is also reprised in the outro). The track features heavy use of African percussion. "Sly" was dedicated to the pioneering funk musician Sly Stone, leader of Sly and the Family Stone. "Chameleon" (the opening track) is another track with an instantly recognizable intro, the introductory line played on an ARP Odyssey synth. "Vein Melter" is a slow-burner, predominantly featuring Hancock and Maupin, with Hancock mostly playing Fender Rhodes electric piano, but occasionally bringing in some heavily effected synth parts.
Heavily edited versions of "Chameleon" and "Vein Melter" were released as a 45 rpm single.
The album was also re-mixed for 4-channel quadraphonic sound in 1974. Columbia released it on LP record in the SQ matrix format and on 8-track tape. The quad mixes feature elements not heard in the stereo version, including an additional 2-second keyboard melody at the beginning of "Sly". Surround sound versions of the album have been released a number of times on the Super Audio CD format. All of these SACD editions use a digital transfer of the original four-channel quad mix re-purposed into 5.1 surround.
Until George Benson's Breezin' (1976), it was the largest-selling jazz album of all time,
The Headhunters band (with Mike Clark replacing Harvey Mason) worked with Hancock on a number of other albums, including Thrust (1974), Man-Child (1975), and Flood (1975), the latter of which was recorded live in Japan. The subsequent albums Secrets (1976) and Sunlight (1977), had widely diverging personnel. The Headhunters, with Hancock featured as a guest soloist, produced a series of funk albums, Survival of the Fittest (1975) and Straight from the Gate (1978), the first of which was produced by Hancock and included the big hit "God Make Me Funky".
The image on the album cover, designed by Victor Moscoso, is based on the African kple kple mask of the Baoulé tribe from Ivory Coast. The image is also based on tape head demagnetizers used on reel-to-reel audio tape recording equipment at the time of this recording. Hancock is represented by the man wearing said image while playing the keyboard, and positioned clockwise around him from lower left are Mason, Jackson, Maupin and Summers.
You can see the influence this album had on music to come - Talking Heads, Kamasi Washington, and so on. This is a fantastic album. The first track, Chameleon, used a groove in the bass and drums which simply got tired to me - and Hancock's soloing did not fill in the gap which I felt was there. But just when I started to think, "okay, I'm getting tired of this track," they switched into a different motif, which got my excitement back on for the album.
The second song, Watermelon Man, covered everything that I felt was missing about Chameleon. Bennie Maupin's saxophone filled in what I felt was the unused sonic space. Each of the songs 'movements', if you will, were accentuated by a motif which felt familiar.
The third song, Sly, was very funky and did not stray from the previous track's integrity either. The intensity on this track is amped up - about halfway through, it reaches a climax and stops abruptly - then returns with a slightly different, jazzier groove. Hancock's Clavinet playing did, however, become slightly irritating with it's relentless repeating grooves. I wish it had been mixed down slightly, and the sound of his rhodes soloing raised slightly. Nonetheless a great song.
The album's closer, Vein Melter, is nothing short of what it's title implies. When first looking at the name, you would expect it to be some kind of loud and huge songs. But this song moves slow as molasses. This track acts like a snake charmer, and you are it's snake. It begins with a bass drum hitting steadily, like a woozy heartbeat. The slow, pulsating rhythm moves forward towards you through the song, and the solos by Hancock and Maupin hypnotize you as the track swallows you whole, sends you into what feels like space, and leaves you alone with nothing your heartbeat yet again.
A sweet listen!
A1 Chameleon Written-By – B. Maupin*, H. Mason*, H. Hancock*, P. Jackson* - 15:43
A2 Watermelon Man Arranged By – Harvey Mason Written-By – H. Hancock* - 6:30
B1 Sly Written-By – H. Hancock* -10:19
B2 Vein Melter Written-By – H. Hancock* - 9.09
Congas, Shekere, Balafon, Agogô, Cabasa, Whistle [Hindewho], Tambourine, Slit Drum [Log Drum], Surdo, Percussion [Gankoqui, Beer Bottle] – Bill Summers Design [Cover Design] – Victor Moscoso Drums [Yamaha Drums] – Harvey Mason Electric Bass, Marimbula – Paul Jackson (2) Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes Electric Piano], Clavinet [Hohner D 6 Clavinet], Synthesizer [ARP Odyssey Synthesizer, ARP Soloist Synthesizer], Pipe [Pipes] – Herbie Hancock Engineer [@ Different Fur] – Dane Butcher, John Vieira Engineer [@ Wally Heider] – Fred Catero, Jeremy Zatkin Management [Artist Management] – Adamsdad Management Co.* Mastered By [Reissue Mastering] – Allan Tucker Photography By – Waldo Bascom Producer – David Rubinson, Herbie Hancock Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Saxello, Bass Clarinet, Alto Flute – Bennie Maupin Notes Publisher on all tracks: Hancock Music Co./B.M.I.
Recorded at: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco [...] and at Different Fur Trading Co., San Francisco. A product of Catero Sound So., San Francisco.
Reissue Mastering [...] at TuckerSound, New York
Back cover: Originally released Ⓟ&Ⓒ 1973, 2008 Sony Music Entertainment / Manufactured by Sony Music Entertainment in association with RED Distribution LLC, A Division of Sony Music Entertainment / 550 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022-3211 / Distributed by RED Distribution LLC 79 Fifth Ave, 15th FL NYC 10003. This Release: Ⓟ&Ⓒ 2009, Sony Music Entertainment. Manufactured & distributed by Music On Vinyl B.V. for Sony Music Entertainment Made in the EU.
Disc labels: Originally released Ⓟ&Ⓒ 1973, 2008 Sony Music Entertainment / Originally released 1973. Ⓟ 2008 Sony Music Entertainment / This Release: Ⓟ&Ⓒ 2009, Sony Music Entertainment. Manufactured & Distributed by Music On Vinyl B.V. for Sony Music Entertainment Made in the EU.
Different writing credit for track A1 on disc label: H. Hancock / A. Willis / D. Rubinson / J. Cohen