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The Headhunters: Return of The Headhunters

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When Herbie Hancock’s cyberspatial voyaging Sextant fell to an ungrateful earth in early ’73, he immediately put together the five-piece Headhunters band. A radical departure from the previous band, their eponymous debut was an audaciously fresh blend of Miles electric spaces, Sly Stone R&B vamps, Motherland percussives and Hancock’s rococco swing. A crossover platinum success, Headhunters made the pianist a most unlikely pop star. Influential in its time, even Herbie couldn’t imagine the impact his new music would have first on ’80s jazz-funk and hip hop and later, ’90s acid jazz.

25 years on, the original Headhunters-Benny Maupin; saxes, bass clarinet, Bill Summers; percussion, Paul Jackson; bass, Mike Clark; drums (replaced Harvey Mason after first LP)-are back with a new album, Return Of The Headhunters. Handing over the keyboard chair to Billy Childs, Hancock opts for featured guest status along with Patrice Rushen, guitarist JK and jazzy R&B diva N’dea Davenport. Picking up the ball they dropped two decades ago, the Headhunters pitch ten off-speed breaking balls of funkdafied jazz heat. Save for the too-Old School tracks “Funk Hunter” and “Skank It” (ironically, Hancock cameos), Return Of The Headhunters dazzles. From the sneaky inside corner strike of “Premonition” to twisting knuckle-ball freestyle of “6/8 – 7/8” to the phat floater Davenport lands smack dab in the K-zone with “Watch Your Back”, the Headhunters have made a record that more than answers the musical question, “What if they hadn’t broken up?” Now we know. Here’s hoping they hang around longer.