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  • Writer's pictureR’nR With Rylo

Spin #89 : Head Hunters : Herbie Hancock






SUNDAY DROP - SPIN #89



Welcome to our 89th Sunday drop from the R'nR with Rylo collection! This week I have chosen a stone cold Jazz Funk masterpiece in Herbie Hancock's, ' Head Hunters'. I respect all types of Jazz and know that a lot of people don't prefer Jazz Funk or Jazz Fusion like the style on this album. Forget what idea you have about a jazz album and go into this one with an open mind as you listen along. Think of it as a funk/soul album that provides music to get up and dance too and stop comparing it to the hard bop style of the early 1960s. Herbie Hancock has an incredible amount of studio albums over his career and I'm sure there is something you'll enjoy within his catalogue. Start from the beginning and see if you like his debut album on Blue Note, 'Takin' Off' (1962) or his late '60s album, 'The Prisoner' (1969).


I guess with anything that you do in life, sometimes you feel like you need to evolve or change. Sometimes that leap of faith is difficult but you'll know it deep down within yourself if you need to take a chance. That's exactly what Hancock did with his sound in the '70s and love it or hate it, give it a chance. Turn it up loud or use a decent set of headphones to hear everything that is going on on this album.


Our children might not know who Herbie Hancock is or really the different sub-genres within the Jazz world, but they recognise a beat and they certainly have rhythm. I think I will listen to this one through the loungeroom set up when the kids are home and in the front room when I'm home alone at points this week.



Image: Herbie working his magic


It's time to #dropthestylus on this Jazz Funk classic and soak up the ambiance of it all! 'Head Hunters' is one of those albums that you want to have playing and watching peoples reactions around the room. As the stylus worked slowly into the groove, I could see our little ones playing with their crane truck and lifting things over the baby gate to each other. The first song kicks off with a bassline and I could see them both shimmying on the spot as they played. I remember showing Night Kat Kiz the start of this album and waiting to see her reaction to the magic that is 'CHAMELEON'.


I was feeling the music and starting to really groove into it and laughed because I looked at her and noticed that she wasn't. She said it was exactly how Vince Noir must feel when Howard Moon was trying to get him to like Jazz on the British comedy show, The Mighty Boosh. I laughed because she was right. Not all music is liked by all people and I said....."that's ok, there is only 13 minutes left of the song". I can see where King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard got some of their inspiration from after listening to this one. Some of the instruments on this album aren't what you think and I was very surprised to hear that the sexy bassline you are hearing is actually the ARP Odyssey 1. There is some clavinet being played by Hancock and some funky drum beats thrown in by Harvey Mason. The front cover artwork is interesting too because it suits the style and mood of the album really well. It was designed by Victor Moscoso who has had his hand in designing psychedelic posters throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The photo on the reverse has them looking stoic as ever and Hancock has removed the big African/music inspired mask.


For me this first song is something that might sound different upon each listen and one that I grew to like more and more over time. There is a lot to soak up here and you won't be able to absorb it all on this first listen. Trust me, give it a couple of spins and you'll have it stuck in your head for months to come.

There were a few lovely moments this week and it all started off by showing our children the airport in Sydney. We hadn't driven around while the big planes were taking off and landing and it was the very first time they have seen them. We live close to a smaller airport but to see the reaction on their faces of a 737 landing was priceless. I tried to drive around so they could see the planes taking off close up before looping around and heading back home.


In case you were wondering where the name came from for second piece of funk, it's actually Hancock's memories of the 'WATERMELON MAN' selling the fruit in the street from childhood. This song is such an energy lifter and one that instantly takes me back to starting work on a Friday morning and laughing with my sister. You may even need this one as your wake up song each day. The song slowly builds and gets you jumping around after hearing Summers blowing into bottles to imitate tribal sounds from Central Africa. The sound is engaging and gets the shoulders and waist moving. Hancock actually composed this song originally for his debut record and it sounds so different because it's in a hard bop style of jazz. On that album he is accompanied by Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Butch Warren and Billy Higgins. I like both versions but there is a certain swagger about the version on 'Head Hunters' that stays in my mind more that the original composition. It has a slower feel in parts and harder bass beats mixed with Maupin on the soprano saxophone and Hancock on the clavinet. If you don't recognise the clavinet sound, check it out isolated on you tube and you'll be amazed by it as I was. There are some definite James Brown influences on this song and someone else that I can't recall their name at this moment.


Another moment this week that will be recorded to memory was taking the time to shell some peanuts with the family. I remember shelling peanuts and cracking macadamias as a kid and wasn't sure how they would react. I explained in the shop that if they wanted to just eat peanuts, they should buy the ones already out of the shell. But if they wanted to experience the 'vinyl' of the peanut world and have some fun getting messy, then we buy a bag of peanuts and do it ourselves. Then I had to explain that elephants eat peanuts whole and that we're not elephants. Since then they have been asking when we can have peanuts again, so I think it went well.


Time to lift the stylus and reflect on Side A of this masterpiece jazz album. What have you thought so far? Flip the LP over to Side B and get ready for a song inspired by Sly and the Family Stone. Hancock was experimenting with a new sound during the three albums that preceded this one and worth checking out too (Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant).


'SLY' would be the song that I'd say sounds most like Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has infiltrated the recording studio and left his fingerprints all over it. There are some seriously talented players on this song and I'll list some of the instruments played:

  1. Herbie Hancock - Composer, Rhodes Piano, Clavinet and Synthesizer

  2. Paul Jackson - Electric Bass Guitar

  3. Bill Summers - Percussion, Congas, Tambourine, Agogo, Surdo, Balafon, Shekere, Afuche/Cabasa, Whistle

  4. Bennie Maupin - Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Alto Flute


There is something about the organised chaos that is jazz and everyone knowing their assignments during the piece of music, that I find mesmerizing. I'll be travelling this week and not looking forward to being away from the family. I know that it will go quickly and before you know it, you will be reading another Rylo spin. On 'SLY' there is a distinct moment where you feel like you're running or watching a chase scene on a '70s police show. One thing that amazed me upon listening to this album is that there is no guitar used. In an era where Jimi Hendrix had shown the world the power of his abilities, Hancock wanted to make an album that felt uniquely original. Hearing the time keeping and swinging of the drums at the 6-7 minute mark also blew my mind. I'd love to hear this album play in a room with 360' sound playing loudly and sitting on a comfy chair in the very centre of the room. If you were looking for the song version of an onion, then you've found it in 'SLY'. There is a dreamscape ending to the track that brings everything back to a controlled and funky conclusion. Can we please get Cedric from 'The Mars Volta' to come up with some lyrics for this one!


Turn up the bass on this last piece of music called, 'VEIN MELTER'. You'll get the feeling that you're watching a sleuth movie scene and following along with the protagonist. I actually read that it's about an addict slowly using again and the musical changes represent the addict getting their fix and eventually reverting to a worse state then what they started in. It shows the endless range of composition that Hancock has at his fingertips and is a big change from the music heard before. Yes there are still those funk beats that get the feet tapping but to a much less chaotic extent. The piano playing by Hancock on this track reminds me a lot of other Blue Note artists who have the ability to transport you somewhere else while you listen along. Of course, our children are having fun in the hallway and loungin currently and pretending the hallway is a giant bed. I will have to show them the rest of Herbie Hancock's 'Head Hunters' when they are older.


The beat that fades out slowly signifies the end of the album and that it's time to lift the stylus. I hope that you found some enjoyment from listening along to 'Head Hunters' by Herbie Hancock this week and it starts you on a path to explore more Jazz records. For some people this album has been the catalyst to find other Jazz funk or fusion albums and there are a lot of artists out there that owe their careers to Hancock. If he didn't take a chance and branch out with a different style of Jazz, who knows what the musical landscape might look like. Be sure to check in next Wednesday at 4:50pm EDT for our MWSP and get involved in our weekly guessing game.


"There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind" - Duke Ellington


Until our next Spin, be Kind to your fingers and be Kind to your Wax!

 

YEAR RELEASED

1973

PRODUCED BY

HERBIE HANCOCK & DAVID RUBINSON

LABEL

COLUMBIA RECORDS

PRICE RANGE

$50+AUD

SPEED PLAYED AT

33 1/3 RPM

ALBUM BEFORE

SEXTANT (1973)

ALBUM AFTER

DEDICATION (1974)

FURTHER LISTENING

MR. HANDS (1980)

FAVOURITE SONG

SLY

RATING OUT OF 5

5

WHAT'S INSIDE THE RECORD SLEEVE

1 X BLACK LP, POLY-PAPER BAG


TRACK LISTING

LP / SIDE

SONG

TRACK LENGTH

​SIDE A

CHAMELEON

15:41

WATERMELON MAN

​6:28

SIDE B

SLY

​10:15

VEIN MELTER

9:09



Mr. Hands in the flesh










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