HERBIE HANCOCK – Head Hunters (1973)

Review by: Mark Maria Ahsmann
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

File it under Jazz I Like. Oh, did I mention yet I like it very much? File it under jazz I Like Very Much.

Not just jazz actually. Jazz Fusion. But let’s not pick nits. Or fuck ants; as the Dutch expression goes.

Oh, OK, file it under jazz fusion I like very much, if you like. It’s a kind of jazz, isn’t it?

Under the shower I listen to classical musical. That’s good for the hygiene; physical as well as mental. And every once in a while, quite often in fact, I hear some piece of music that is if not exactly a piece of shit then at least a piece of music that does not exactly turn me on. Gives me chagrin. Usually the announcer tells me it’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when it is finally finished.

In the 80’s there was a movie about Mozart called Amadeus. In It young Wolfgang encounters a monarch who tells him he doesn’t like the music because it contains “too many notes”. To which the composer replies, very wittily, “Which notes exactly would you like me to remove, Sire?”.

Still, I think that was a wise king. Or at least he made a valid observation.

I don’t hate Mozart. In fact I love his Requiem. Very much. Fact is however that he wrote an awful lot of music that leaves me totally cold. Pieces that to my uneducated ears sound like futile exercises in cleverness. Aptitude tests. Series of meaningless notes that do not resonate with me at all.

My attitude towards jazz is somewhat the same. While I respect the tradition and the musicians and I’m fond of the mythos of the story of jazz the music is often boring or, worse, annoying, to my ears. All these bloody notes! Solo’s! All this emphasis on prowess. Chops! A very childish word: “chops”.

The same issue I have with some more technically inclined progbands. Trying to impress me. Well. Liberace had chops too.

Noodling. There’s some noodling I like but that’s more an exception than a rule. I don’t mind Jimi Hendrix’ and Miles Davis’ noodling at all. I like Fripping to some extent and was shocked to discover a couple of weeks ago that I actually liked one of those Yes albums, can’t remember which one. But that had a lot to do with the bass parts. (Definitely not with the singing.) Neil Young can noodle into my ear anytime. But I don’t know if that has anything to do with chops. Him and his old black sounding like a shot and leaking can of paint that comes tumbling down the slope in the morning. In these cases it’s the tone and the colour that I love.

But generally speaking I’m not fond of noodling.

Also I have this prejudice that jazz fans often have unpleasant, snobbish and presumptuous attitudes. But that’s not exclusive for jazz. Classical people can be very condescending as well. And maybe I ought to stick my hand in my own bosom. Could be I’m a poprocksnob.

Oh shit, I’m just reading the news that Lemmy has died. On the radio they’re playing the so called Top 2000 of All Time as voted by the Dutch public. I’ve just learned that my fellow countrymen think “We All Stand Together” is one the 2000 best songs ever made. No mentiön of Lemmy playing bass in the big hereafter, so far.

That makes me see red. I must be a snob.

I don’t want no sugar in my coffee.

So, I was just saying that a mild case of aversion to jazz because of the emphasis on virtuosity and solo’s and, more irrationally, because of the snobbishness associated with the genre.
Thus I frankly steered mostly clear of the genre, with a few exceptions like Miles Davis, whose tone I love (especially on Sketches of Spain) and vocal jazz like Billie Holiday. & I have an album by one Sydney Bechet that I like for some reason.

I was scared upon learning that I had to review a jazz album. Well OK, a jazz fusion album if you like. Headhunters by Herbie Hancock. Fear of noodling.

Then I put on the thing.

And it was a relief. I was fine & unharmed.

Of course, I could have known that I was gonna be alright with Hancock. So far I know only one piece of him, Rockit, – the jazz / hip hop fusion thing- , and I did like it.

What have we here? A very influential jazz fusion album. Referenced, listed, sampled a lot of times. Fuses jazz and funk and some African rhythms. It uses a lot of keyboards (clavinet and analogue synths mainly), saxophone and other wind instruments, various percussion instruments and it has fabulous basslines. No vocals.

Chameleon, the first track starts off with a really fat synthesizer bass line and it is very funky. An equally fat and pleasant keyboard sound is applied and there are a couple of breaks in the piece where the synthesizer sounds as if a space ship is landing. Or taking off. No, on second thought it is definitely landing. However, the bass, alternately synthesizer and conventional electric rules. By the way, according to Wikipedia there are no guitars on Headhunters but do I hear two rhythm guitar parts on Chameleon?

Somewhat more laidback, but still very danceable is Watermelon Man, the second track which happens to open with the coolest thing on the whole record, a rhythmic whistling pattern that’s played on beer bottles. (At first I thought it were flutes and was amazed that I liked it because the flute is the instrument I love least and dread most. It sounds wet, breathy, breathless, shrill and panicky. I always fear that a big lump of saliva will fly into my ear. Or worse. I don’t want no flutepersons climaxing near me. Most unsavory alas.) (But it turns out they’re not flutes after all.) Anyway: nice!

The third piece, Sly, is the one I have the most problems with. It starts out promising enough wih a beautifully fluid melody line but then it turns into a very frantic jazzy drum based piece which doesn’t have a memorable hook and is mostly given over to, yes, a lot of soloing on various instruments. I don’t abhor it and now that I hear it for the third time I’m getting used to it a little bit. Still I could do without the solo’s. Not my favorite.

Vein Melter, the 4th track is. Very evocative name by the way, especially when you read it in and think it is German which I mistakenly did at first. I have no idea what or who Vein Melter is in German but I would like to. Don’t know what is meant by it in English. Vein Melter is simply beautiful. It has a slow march tempo and it sounds mellow, sinister, introspective and lyrical at the same time. Once again it has a great bass line.

Probably many people assess new music by way of association with music that’s already known to them. At least I do. I can hear a lot of echoes of Headhunters in post-punk music without being able to quite put my finger on it where it’s influences show exactly. A Certain Ratio? Shriekback? Maybe I will find out tomorrow.

If it’s intention of this most alas game to spread new good music among the participants then in this case the goal is achieved. As I said before, I like it a lot. I consider a purchase.

Author: tomymostalas


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