Herbie Hancock learned how to be ahead of his time while working with Miles Davis in the 1960s and 1970s, and proved it by one-upping his mentor in 1973. Hancock had just recorded on Davis’ 1972 release On the Corner, which was heavily influenced by the funk grooves of James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone. The keyboardist’s 1973 funk-fusion release Head Hunters then proved groundbreaking enough that the title also became a recognizable band name—even without Hancock, as is the case nearly 40 years later on the Headhunters’ new Platinum CD.
Led by original percussionist Bill Summers and drummer Mike Clark (onboard since the 1974 follow-up gem Thrust), the Headhunters attempt to fuse jazz and hip-hop on Platinum the way the original lineup merged jazz with funk. The results, while mixed, are certainly not boring. The slinking instrumental “Salamander,” written by Clark, Summers and saxophonist Donald Harrison (a frequent recent collaborator), sounds like a modern update of “Chameleon.” The best of the rap tracks, “D Funk (Funk With Us),” features interjections by Snoop Dogg and George Clinton among raps by Jaecyn Bayne and Killah Priest and the vocals of Cynthia Layne.
Touring rapper Private Pile shows up on the hip-hop highlight “Skizness,” but the Headhunters shine brightest while sticking to the instrumental sub-genre they helped to create. “Tracie” is a Latin-tinged strut featuring Rob Dixon, Harrison and original Headhunter Bennie Maupin on saxophones; “Paging Mr. Wesley” brings the funk with the horn section of Dixon, Harrison and trumpeter Derrick Gardner; and the sedate John Coltrane salute “M Trane” features Patrice Rushen’s dancing piano over the rhythms of Clark, Summers and bassist Richie Goods. Clark’s inside-out intro to “Palm Nut,” borrowed from the Thrust tune “Palm Grease,” will also put listeners into the funk-fusion time machine.