Friday, April 30, 2010

Herbie Hancock: Head Hunters (1973)



I knew Herbie Hancock's name and a good deal of his music years before I knew the difference between Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Does that make me somewhat ignorant or does it speak to the fact that any way to fall in love with music is the right way? You can say what you like about fusion, and I'll probably agree with you; the stuff is driven by pure virtuosity and noodling for noodling's sake and I can't relate to that because I like my stuff driven by songs. But if Head Hunters is fusion, call me a fuse-head and send me down to the Weather Report concert. This was a hugely important album to me growing up, and while it's easy to split apart the things you once loved and how much you cared for them (I thought the Police were the second greatest band in history when I was in seventh grade), I don't think you can discount what formed your tastes and how it all meshed together, and Head Hunters was the first album I ever bought and loved that could remotely be called "jazz." It would be years before I could even begin to understand why it felt so right to me, and I guess in a way I still don't.

Recorded quickly almost to the point of being tossed off, Head Hunters captures a singular mood and sicks with it. From the opening blips of "Chameleon" to the assured, shimmering abstractions of "Vein Melter," Head Hunters feels to me as if it aims to seduce. The criticism of fusion -- both theoretically and usually in action -- is that it is a purely cerebral genre, jazz without the passion. But this is music I feel in my bones; it is dance music, funk, body movement. For sure you can lean back in your chair and be impressed with it if so inclined, but who needs to think when your feet just go? I don't seek any greater truth in my music than that, honestly. And I can assure you that I was taught so much by these grooves which ramble onward for as long as fifteen minutes but are never boring, chiefly about the strange warped beauty in the best improvisation. I wasn't a musician and I'm still not, so the technical specifications I can't delve into, but that's why I think this holds up so well for me -- it doesn't need explanation and even defies it. It's direct communication, so for me -- length regardless -- it's rock & roll.

And listening to the disc again today, I find it's like revisiting one's old world and finding as much joy in it as ever. I know more Hancock now, a lot of which I really love and some of which I probably love more than this and some of which I do find as tiresome as a Return to Forever album. I've heard Miles Davis' batshit experiments that make Hancock going out on a limb sound so much less extreme, but Head Hunters still moves me in this curious way. All four cuts are memorable and unfold breathlessly. It's playful. It has wit. "Sly" is as explosive an integration of ideas, "Watermelon Man" as gorgeous a reinvention, "Chameleon" as tight a groove as you'll ever hear. And etc. I don't know if you need this record, but I know I do.

I got hit with a copyright notice from someone last week over my Goldfrapp MP3s. I haven't quite been sure how to continue since I want to find a way to share without stealing but I'd rather not piss anyone off. Here, from the Youtubes, is "Sly," the song (a perfect tribute to the Family Stone) that made me want to hear this album when I heard it on a mix someone gave me ten years ago.

I'm working on a better option to play music here that will be more fun for me than YouTube videos but hopefully won't make anyone feel infringed-upon.

Since it's been a while since I posted (in large part due to the self-doubt imposed by the copyright violation notice), I'll just toss the latest music news down here. Sorry to focus on Yo La Tengo again, but really quick: They've announced a new EP, this one of remixes of their Popular Songs standout "Here to Fall." Remixers include De La Soul and Pete Rock! I'm excited about this one. It's out the same day as the new Roots album, which I personally think will be loads of fun (it features a guest shot from Joanna Newsom!).

Speaking of our idols growing up, Blur was a major one for a lot of us, and April brought huge elation for Blur fans with the release of their first new song since the outstanding Think Tank (2003) on an exclusive Record Store Day 7" (UK only). The song, "Fool's Day," is a total one-off with no further recording plans being made, so of course it's tantalizingly great. You can hear it at their official website.

We're still massive Beatles fans here and we love Paulie even though he can be kind of a fuckwit (just kiddin', Paulie), so it's kind of interesting to hear that the Wings and Paul McCartney (and possibly Thrillington!??!) back catalogs are to be reissued by the boutique label Concord, which (news to me) is somehow associated with the weirdass Starbucks label he's on these days. Post-Beatles Paul is kind of a minefield but if you dig around long enough, you find some rich rewards, so dig away, and feel good about not helping out the deservedly ailing EMI anymore. (No such consolation if you're in the market for October's Beatles vinyl remasters.) If you're in the mood for some completely sick Wings shit you've probably never heard, find some way to get the b-sides "Sally G" and "Country Dreamer," further proof that Paul with his guard down trounces professional Paul.

In other Beatles news, we acquired Beatles Rock Band this month and while I -- a video game rank amateur -- am learning to be competent with the fake geetars, I think my money's worth comes from unabashedly drooling over the glimpses of multitracks and session material that show up here and there. I'll give those guys even more money if they burn all that on some DVDs for me.

This past week we saw the Tallest Man on Earth at a tiny chapel in the University of North Carolina and it just might have been the best and most intimate show I've ever seen. More on that when I review his brilliant new album before too long.

Finally, just a few days ago, one of my favorite schlocky boy bands, Interpol, released a new song, which is very good and is apparently the first sign of a new LP from them. Always good to hear from those kids. Listen to the new track at their website as well!

Been spinning lots of new records this month and I'll try to do a better job of talking about them in the coming weeks! Briefly: Apples in Stereo = their best since Discovery of a World Inside the Moone. Tallest Man on Earth = genius. New Pornographers = strong showing, still making up my mind about it. New record I probably won't review for a long time because it kind of sucks: Eels' End Times, a disappointment in a string of same. New records I want to spend some time with and haven't yet: Gil Scott-Heron, Kaki King, and I still haven't quite figured out how I feel about Owen Pallett yet (though John Darnielle's recent endorsement in his blog has me keeping it in mind).

See you guys tomorrow with some Gram Parsons discussion.

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