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Headhunters' albums (WITHOUT Herbie Hancock)

Discussion in 'Recordings [BG]' started by DaveBeny, Jan 7, 2002.

  1. DaveBeny


    Mar 22, 2000
    London, UK
    Yesterday, I stumbled upon two recently re-issued albums by Herbie Hancock's '70s band, the Headhunters:

    'Survival Of The Fittest'


    'Straight From The Gate'

    I haven't yet bought them. I've heard one track from 'Survival Of The Fittest', 'God Make Me Funky' (with Paul Jackson on vocals!) and while it was a good funk tune, it didn't strike me as being anywhere near what the band was doing with Herbie. Does anyone have these re-issues, or did anyone buy them back in the '70s? Any opinions gratefully received.
  2. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I have wanted those two records for awhile...www.audiophileimports.com has 'em, BUT @about $25+ each.
    Can you pick them up & give me a capsule review? ;)
  3. DaveBeny


    Mar 22, 2000
    London, UK
    Jim, both of these albums are available from amazon.com for $13.99 each.

    www.allmusic.com only gave 'Straight From The Gate' two stars, but gave 'Survival Of The Fittest' a rather glowing four and a half star review:

    In 1975, Herbie Hancock's group the Headhunters, which brought him immense success at the time, released their first solo album. Produced by Hancock, but without his participation, the lineup features the Thrust group of Mike Clark on drums, Paul Jackson on bass, Bill Summers on percussion and Bennie Maupin on various reeds, plus new guitarist DeWayne "Blackbird" McKnight, who toured with Hancock and was on the Man-Child and Flood albums. They added a few guests: three further percussionists (Zak Diouf, Baba Duru and Harvey Mason — the latter was the first Headhunters drummer) and flutist Joyce Jackson. While the thought of a Hancock-less Headhunters might puzzle some listeners, the group did extremely well without him — in fact, Survival of the Fittest may be the ultimate space-funk album. The interplay between all musicians is tighter than tight, especially in the rhythm section of Jackson-Clark-Summers, who can effortlessly make everything groove and move. The first track, "God Make Me Funky," marks Jackson's debut as a lead vocalist — a role he unfortunately wouldn't reprise too often. While his singing is a bit off-key, his vocals owe much to the blues tradition and carry great urgency and authenticity. At the end of the song, his voice is quite reminiscent of Ray Charles. The track starts off as a funky R&B number (the beginning bears close resemblance to their earlier "Palm Grease"), with background vocals being provided by the Pointer Sisters; it then turns into a fast chase with an intense, frantic Bennie Maupin solo which borders on the atonal. "Mugic" starts off like the funk version of "Watermelon Man" and turns out to be a showcase for Bill Summers' various percussion instruments. "Here and Now" starts aimlessly, develops into a lopey groove and gains speed as Maupin delivers another excellent solo, accompanied by ethereal guitar sounds. "Daffy's Dance" is in a similar vein, though it's rhythmically more consistent and has a rather funny melody. "Rima" is extremely spacy — McKnight's guitar serves as a substitute for keyboards and produces lots of freaky sounds; Joyce Jackson's echoey alto flute provides a good counterpart for Maupin's bass clarinet; Summers adds atmospheric percussion, and the groove is very subdued. The last track, "If You've Got It, You'll Get It," returns to a funk/R&B mode, featuring a catchy bass riff and a sing-along chant, though this time McKnight steps into the solo spotlight. Survival of the Fittest is consistently interesting and features lots of great performances by excellent musicians — and it never forgets to groove.
  4. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Thanks, Dave.
    I ordered both from Tower.

    Another $30 vanishes...
  5. DaveBeny


    Mar 22, 2000
    London, UK
    Give us a review when you get them!
  6. DaveBeny


    Mar 22, 2000
    London, UK
  7. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Straight From The Gate arrived yesterday; I had planned on listening to it today at work...whadda day.
    From 6:30a.m. 'til about 3:00p.m. I hadda actually work!
    As a result, I only got to hear the first two tunes...
    Jackson leads off the album with a funky ostinato & Clark is doing his thing. I'll get back to this tomorrow, gotta a hockey game tonight.

    **PUNCHING IN***
    I listened to the 1st 5 tracks this a.m.-
    Track 1-"Straight From The Gate"
    ...Jackson begins with a prototypical "Paul Jackson-funk figure" & never really deviates from it. The horns(Bennie Maupin double-tracking his parts)are really reminiscent of AWB's section-style horn arrangements. There is also a short 'R&B-ish' interlude before the tune breaks back into the main(only)groove. Vocals are on this track...IMHO, an obvious attempt to land something on the then-dance charts(also explains why this track leads off the album).

    Track 2-"Mayonnaise"
    ...better stuff, IMO. Maupin is playing some kinda angular horn line, similiar to a '70s Brecker Brothers' figure(or Tom Scott in his LA Express days).
    Towards the end, the band plays through the changes & allows Clark to 'free-style'...eventually, Jackson adds some Disco-fied octaves. ;)

    Track 3-"Ms. Yum Yum"
    ...Feel change #1. A laid-back shufflin' Blues groove.
    Almost a Stuff-like vibe(if you remember Stuff...w/ Eric Gale & Cornell Dupree on guitars).
    Eventually, the tune shifts gears into an ambient 'jam'. Blackbyrd has moved from the Blues to 'jazzy' little fills. Clark is not playing the time, Jackson is locked into what he's doing, Maupin is soloing over the changes...almost in an early Weather Report style. It does return to the Blues groove & fades out.

    Track 4-"Don't Kill Your Feelings"
    ...Another vocal/"Pop"-style/mid-tempo/R&B tune.
    There's some Funk goin' on ala a very early Kool & The Gang.
    The electric piano solo(Paul Boyten)is the best part...he almost goes 'out' a couple times(actually, he does, albeit very briefly). ;)

    Track 5-"Descending Azzizziuh"
    ...another 'winner'(IMO).
    Jackson starts the madness with a funkified Latin-ish ostinato. Clark is playing with 'the time'...is it 4? Is it odd? Is it BOTH?!
    Blackbyrd enters with another angular-type figure...major distortion ensues, a lotta energy & sonic bursts.
    The tune then shifts into a 'jazzy' R&B-ish thing...another nice electric piano solo(NOT Herbie...but "OK"). Again, Clark/Jackson are 'doing it'!
    Those guys are a team knows when to cook & lock AND when to play around & go 'out'. ;)

    More later...
  8. DaveBeny


    Mar 22, 2000
    London, UK
    Sounds like good stuff! What I'm really after at the moment though is the Japanese album 'Flood', although it's going to cost some serious cash to get a copy over here.
  9. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I was gonna recommend Flood! I picked mine up from www.audiophileimports.com.
    ...a recent e-mail from AI mentions a trio disc coming out featuring Robben Ford, Jimmy Haslip, & Vinnie Colaiuta. On paper, that looks very happenin'.

    I'll get back to The Headhunters' disc today...this morning I was checking out Graham Central Station's debut album. Great stuff, very much a "Sly & The Family Stone" record! ;)
  10. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    More Straight From The Gate notes-

    "I Remember I Made You Cry"-
    ...another R&B vocal tune; definitely some funky Jackson happenin' during the choruses.
    The sax solo section reminds me of something ala John Handy's Hard Work record from the same era(I haven't played that Handy record in over 20 years; for some reason, I immediately thought of it when this section started. Weird). Anyway, Jackson/Clark play it pretty straight for Maupin...IMO, this is probably the better of the vocals tracks on this album.

    "Pork Soda"-
    ...Funk/Rock Jazz; very cool groove goin' on during the organ solo(the percussion of Bill Summers adds a lot).
    Blackbyrd turns in another yet 'angular' solo...sounding like Robben Ford in his '70s Fusion days or even a Sonny Sharrock, McKnight takes a pretty nice Rocked-out, almost fuzz-drenched ride.
    Very cool, a lot happens in the not quite 4:00 long tune.

    ...R&B ballad(sorta); very Pop-ish.

    ...more '70s R&B/Jazz Fusion.
    The sax solo, again, almost a Weather Report vibe(Alphonso Johnson era).
    McKnight chips in with another sonic-infested solo. I'm impressed; he comps nicely(nice voicings that don't dominate the rhythm section of Jackson/Clark)& CRANKS IT UP when it's his turn...at one time, McKnight had a go with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, makes me wonder why things didn't work out(unless it was his call to leave!).

    As far as Straight From The Gate-
    I can live without the vocal tracks. ;)
    Initially, I was gonna sya "only fans & completist would like this". Now, after about 3-4 listens...I like it. I dig Jackson & Clark(& Maupin & McKnight); any chance to hear 'em in their prime is "OK" with me.
  11. BassGuyNL


    Jul 20, 2000
    The Netherlands
    funny no one mentioned "The return of the headhunters" CD, from around 1998. I'm not a headhunters expert, but I think it's a nice album, some nice Jackson grooves, and Herbie does play piano on 2 or 3 tunes.
  12. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    I did. 5th post from the top.
  13. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Personally, I've been attempting to forget about that one. "The Return" did not float my boat...at all! (That's me, though). ;)

    Survival Of The Fittest-
    Been checking this out for the past 3 days.
    "God Made Me Funky" is an almost 10 minute salute to Sly, P-Funk, AND Hancock's Mwandishi band(or even the band from Sextant, though, I think that's also the Mwandishi collective). The tune grooves along...Maupin takes a long solo, almost in 'outsville'. Maupin's playing/soloing on this disc is a little more of the "pushing the envelope" variety than on SFTG. Jackson also sings lead on this tune...

    Another of those tunes where I'm thinking...is it in 4 or is it 5? This tune is mostly a drum/percussion/bass fest...

    "Here & Now"-
    After the expressive intro, Jackson lays into a 'flanged' groove(I woulda guessed the other Jackson...Anthony Jackson). ;)
    Jackson's groove is a 2-bar figure(by my count)-
    Bar 1 is the "question", bar 2 "answers" with some 1/16th note activity on Beats 3 & 4.
    Clark sticks to one pattern for awhile...you can hear him increasing his activity with each pass, too. Maupin, again, takes a nice solo(almost guitar-like, in that he'll overblow & distort the horn...).

    "Daffy's Dance"-
    Another finger-funker.
    The bass & the wah-wah'd guitar sorta lock on Beats 1 & 3(Jackson adds some little fills on Beat 4).
    I'm trying to hear in my head how the guitar woulda sounded if played on Beats 2 & 4(backbeat guitar)...this woulda given the tune a linear kinda thing between those two instruments. Hmmmm...
    Maupin plays some Bop-ish little fills, Blackbird takes a wah-wah'd solo...Clark is pumping out the groove with Bill Summers.
    This stuff woulda been happenin' at Woodstock! ;)

    The cd also has a booklet inside(as does SFTG)...nice picture of Jackson playing a Fender P-bass...& it's slung LOW!
    On a whole, I may like SOTF a little better; I like how it's almost an electrified version of what was happenin' on Sextant(if I'm recalling correctly). ;)

    BTW, on the cd's back cover, it sez-
    "The BEST SPACE-FUNK album".
  14. DaveBeny


    Mar 22, 2000
    London, UK
    Thanks for all the info and comments Jim! Very useful - I'll pick both albums up over the next week or so. BTW, re: 'SOTF' - I don't think it's possible to get more "electrified" than 'Sextant';) :D

    (Available 2/12, place preorders now)
    2002 release. This has to be the power trio of the year, and already in the Audiophile Imports top ten. These three first class musicians playing no holds barred, hard edged fusion. Almost entirely instrumental, Robben Ford and Jimmy Haslip sing on one track each. This one's going to blow you away. Featuring Robben Ford, guitar, vocals (one track); Jimmy Haslip, bass, keys, vocals (one track), and the drummer's drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, on drums. Guests: Steve Tavaglione, E.W.I., keys; Brian Auger, organ; Dan Morris, tablas (one track each).

    Yeah, this ought to be pretty cool. I know Haslip and Colaiuta have got the latin-jazz thing going on, but I don't know much about Ford. Isn't he a blues/jazz guitarist? Could make an interesting combination...

    I'll be picking up the new John Schofield album as soon as I can. Some very psychadelic-funk stuff on that.

    One of my best buys recently has been an album called 'Steaming', a real "power trio" of Brian Auger on keys, Pete York on drums, and my main man Colin Hodgkinson on bass! Very cool! Live in Germany in 1985, tearing through some jazz standards, ('Freedom Jazz Dance', 'Take The A Train', etc.) a Bunny Brunel "fusion" tune, and a few blues/R&B numbers. CH gets his usual solo spot.
  15. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I like Robben Ford a lot. In my early Jazz/Fusion record buying daze, Tom Cat by Tom Scott & The LA Express was an early favourite. Maybe a little more on the R&B side when compared to, say, the Return To Forevers, Mahavishnu Orchestras, Weather Reports, etc...nevertheless, Ford took some nice Rocked-out/jazzy solos; additionally, Ford's unison lines with Tom Scott's sax...I dug it.
    Anyway, later, I found out that Ford is from the school of Blues; he played in Charlie Musselwhite's band & in the Charles Ford Band(mostly Blues-oriented stuff of the 'basic' variety).
    Eventually, Ford put out an album called The Inside Story...the rhythm section on this record? Haslip, Russell Ferrante, & Ricky Lawson-
    The Yellowjackets-to-be. Ford played on the 1st 2 Yellowjackets' albums; later, he appeared on another(Running For Your Life?).
    Ford also has a few 'solo' albums...I like Talk To Your Daughter. Coliauta is on that one + a few other hot studio cats(I'm drawing a blank!).
    Also, The Blue Line(Ford's electric Blues-Rock trio)has a couple albums I really like...Roscoe Beck & Tommy Brechtlein are the rhythm section(I think).
    Over the holidays, I made a half-feeble attempt at organizing my stuff...I think I have about 10 Robben Ford discs! Man!
  16. BassGuyNL


    Jul 20, 2000
    The Netherlands
    I remember reading, a few years ago, that the only thing that kept Robben Ford from being an official Yellowjackets member was that he already had a record deal with another company.

    I like his early albums. It's definitely blues, but with a very sophisticated edge. The fact that his playing was being regarded as "too complicated" by several well known bluesplayers who only know their five notes (the "complicated" term for that is pentatonic scale;) usually means that it's actually very good...

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