Return of the Headhunters
Verve Records 314 539 028-2 CD, 1998
Has it been twenty-five years?!
Dan Macintosh, 23 February 2001
The Headhunters will forever be associated with Herbie Hancock as the band he had when he was getting his feet wet with jazz-fusion. Now they are back for a reunion album. But what was revolutionary back in the days of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew," is not quite so startling these days.
Comprised of Michael Clark on drums, Paul Jackson on bass, Bennie Maupin on various saxophones and Bill Summers on percussion, this "Return of the Headhunters" doesn't sound all that different from a dozen other groups. Whereas Miles applied electronics to enhance his jazz-rooted excursions, this combo merely vamps to instrumental R&B, like so many other lightweight "contemporary jazz" players.
One gets the sense that instead of stirring up revived creativity with this re-gathering, these four fell back into an unchallenging sentimental groove. The playing is tight, but the melodies are ultimately forgettable.
Herbie Hancock is listed as a special guest, but even his fiery playing on the opener "Funk Hunter" can't get a fire started here. Considering that Herbie has recently been trading sparks with Wayne Shorter on duet projects, as well as tackling the legendary Gershwin repertoire of late, he may have simply been challenged-out when it came to reuniting with his old mates.
A lot of the old criticisms of this now old genre still apply here: Namely that it's neither rock nor jazz, but some lukewarm place in between.
Next time the Headhunters return, let's hope they bring some worthy material with them.
performers Michael Clark, drums; Paul Jackson, bass; Bennie Maupin, saxophones, bass clarinet; Bill Summers, percussion; Herbie Hancock, keyboards; Patrice Rushen, keyboards; Darrell Smith, keyboard programming; JK, guitar; Mark Goodman, keyboards; N'dea Davenport, vocals; Trevant Hardson, rap; Bruce Millstein, electronic percussion; Billy Childs, keyboards
songs Funk Hunter · Skank It · Watch Your Back · Frankie and Kevin · Premonition · Tip Toe · Two But Not Two · PP Head · Kwanzaa · 6/8-7/8