The twelfth album from jazz master Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters is a seminal piece of work which – in its embracing of electronic funk instrumentation – helped to popularise jazz fusion. Despite the slim-looking track listing (only four songs), the album takes its sweet time, stretching those four songs out into forty minutes of head-bobbing, foot-tapping jazz funk.
Head Hunters amalgamates effects-heavy synthesiser rhythms and clavinet leads with traditional jazz trappings, such as complex syncopated drumming, strutting, bouncing basslines and a sense of loose, free-form improvisation throughout. Far more accessible than a lot of jazz fusion albums, it’s one that can really turn a shitty day the right way up, with ‘Watermelon Man’ in particular building up an effortlessly smile-inducing groove (seriously, play that song the next time you feel down, and see if it doesn’t at least make you forget your problems for six and a half minutes).
All four songs are exercises in how to make music which is technically very difficult sound smooth and laidback, with the shifting time signatures and ecstatic little tangents adding to an overall tone of carefree joy, rather than coming across as needlessly flashy, or pretentious, or any of the other accusations often levelled at jazz music. ‘Sly’ shifts from sounding like a funky 70s detective show to African percussion to scatterbrained piano and then marries it all together, veering like a runaway train and yet never missing a beat. Considering how Head Hunters sounds so often like a group of guys just having a jam and bouncing off one another, the tightness and precision on these tracks is genuinely impressive and worth a listen even for casual fans of jazz/funk.