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Headhunters: Evolution Revolution

Percussionist Bill Summers, drummer Mike Clark and bassist Paul Jackson are currently the core members of the Headhunters ensemble. They’re a great section that can make anything they play respectable, even songs saddled with mundane arrangements.

There is little musically innovative or striking about the 16 cuts on this Evolution Revolution, but dance music by design doesn’t have to be edgy or experimental-and high-caliber funk not only moves the body, it enriches the soul. While that’s not the case with several numbers on Evolution Revolution, the Headhunters do a credible job, once they zip beyond the routine melodies, of extending these tracks and generating some rhythmic intensity and musical variety.

One recurring problem involves the song lengths. Not even Earth, Wind & Fire or James Brown in his prime could do much with a two- or three-minute piece except deliver the basic package, and that’s the case on “Woody Shaw” and “Take No Prizzonerz” (which is at least entertaining). The fragments “Hindewhu for You” provide a quick glimpse of Bill Summers’ versatility with percussive instruments, and “BPM” shows how attuned Summers, Clark and Jackson are to one another’s musical mannerisms. But they’re so sparse they only tease the listener.

Thankfully, the Headhunters loosen up on the longer pieces, with special guests multi-instrumentalist Bennie Maupin, trumpeters Irvin Mayfield and Nicholas Payton, pianists Ronald Markham or Victor Atkins, guitarists Shinji Shiotsugu and Bill Solley and saxophonist Donald Harrison playing much more than light riffs and phrases. Harrison delivers his hottest, most substantive solos on “Loft Funk” and “Martell on the Rocks,” while Payton tries his best to elevate “God Made Me Funky” and Maupin plays soprano, tenor and bass clarinet with authority on “On the Shores of Amore.” George Porter Jr.’s fine lead turns “Fonkyfried (If the Bluenotes Don’t Gitcha)” into a number both humorous and delightful, and Payton returns with zest on “Nutcracker.”

Evolution Revolution isn’t the greatest Headhunters CD, but the good pieces reaffirm their importance as one of funk’s better rhythm sections and ongoing units.

Originally Published