Diving into some Fusion-laced Funk this weekend by way of Herbie Hancock and Headhunters. When his landmark album Head Hunters was released, it was one of those rare occasions where Jazz and Mainstream Pop met on solid ground. Though not to the appreciation of some of his longtime fans; the Jazz purists who had problems with Funk and Fusion – it nonetheless signaled a breakthrough in the long and enduring career of one of Jazz’s great keyboard players and composers. Head Hunters was Herbie Hancock’s twelfth studio album and his must successful up to that time.
Despite charges of “selling out”, Stephen Erlewine of AllMusic positively reviewed the album among other friendly critics, saying, “Head Hunters still sounds fresh and vital three decades after its initial release, and its genre-bending proved vastly influential on not only jazz, but funk, soul, and hip-hop.”
Drummer Mason was replaced by Mike Clark, and the band released a second album, Thrust, the following year, 1974. (A live album from a Japan performance, consisting of compositions from those first two Head Hunters releases was released in 1975 as Flood.) This was almost as well received as its predecessor, if not attaining the same level of commercial success. The Headhunters made another successful album called Survival of the Fittest in 1975 without Hancock, while Hancock himself started to make even more commercial albums, often featuring members of the band, but no longer billed as The Headhunters. The Headhunters reunited with Hancock in 1998 for Return of the Headhunters, and a version of the band (featuring Jackson and Clark) continues to play and record.
In 1973, Hancock composed his soundtrack to the controversial film The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Then in 1974, he composed the soundtrack to the first Death Wish film. One of his memorable songs, “Joanna’s Theme”, was re-recorded in 1997 on his duet album with Shorter, 1 + 1.
Hancock’s next jazz-funk albums of the 1970s were Man-Child (1975), and Secrets (1976), which point toward the more commercial direction Hancock would take over the next decade. These albums feature the members of the Headhunters band, but also a variety of other musicians in important roles.
In case you missed it, or needed a gentle (and swinging) reminder of those people who broke ground and led the way, here is a concert given in Tokyo on September 28, 1978 and recorded for posterity by the iconic NHK Radio in Japan.