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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Headhunters - Platinum

The Headhunters - Platinum
2011, Owl Studios

It wouldn't be unfair to call The Headhunters the godfathers of Jazz Fusion.  Originally Herbie Hancock's backing band for his 1973 masterpiece album Head Hunters, The Headhunters have continued on over the years as periodic collaborators with Hancock as well as an individual band.  On hiatus throughout the 1980's and most of the 1990's, The Headhunters reunited with Hancock in 1998 for The Return Of The Headhunters.  The Headhunters have continued on their own since then, blend jazz, funk, African and Caribbean styles with traditional and electronic instrumentation to create a singular sound that has been copied, imitated and sampled by numerous acts over the years.  Led by long-time members Mike Clark and Bill Summers, the Headhunters return on June 7, 2011 with Platinum, a collection of twelve thrilling tracks with special guests such as Snoop Dogg, Killah Priest, Jaecyn Bayne, Private Pile, Bernie Maupin, Patrice Rushen and George Clinton.

Platinum opens with "Mission Statement", and bassist Gary Mielke nearly steals the show right out of the box, oozing funk in a driving line that electrifies the entire song.  Jaecyn Byrne takes the mic with a rap about his goals as an artist that's both poetic and sharp.  "Salamander" is a funk-driven instrumental with a wicked trumpet/sax pairing.  There's a danceable yet mellow groove here that's inescapable.  Snoop Dogg, Killah Priest and George Clinton all have input on "D-Funk (Funk With Us), a vibrant blend of funk and jazz in a modern setting.  "Tracie" dips into Latin Jazz and Meringue in an enjoyable instrumental that you won't be able to sit still for.  "Paging Mr. Wesley" steps back into a late 1970's and early 1980's pop/jazz/disco sound for a catchy and danceable instrumental.

Things get truly interesting on "M. Trane", a sax-led instrumental sonically inspired by John Coltrane that's fired along by deceptively cool percussion work.  Saxophone plays a bit too heavy a role here, but it's otherwise a fine piece of ensemble work.  "Apple Tree" finds Jaecyn Bayne returning to mic with another song about aspirations.  Once Bayne runs out, the Headhunters take things on to a new phase of instrumental jazz expressionism that is better experienced than described.  "Palm Nut" is an extended instrumental that gets a bit lost in its own voluminous nature at times, but always returns to a solid theme.  Entertaining and well played the experimental free style jazz number benchmarks on tradition, while constantly casting out for new horizons musically. 

"Congo Place" is a solid offering, and leads into the alternating frenetic and lyric passages of "Headhunting".  Pretty at times, raucous at others, "Headhunting" uses trumpet and a trio of saxophones to smooth out the edges in between energetic and occasionally chaotic passages and runs.  "Skizness" brings Private Pile to the fore with a purely entertaining rumination on state of being.  The Headhunters wrap things up with a more straightforward pop/jazz sound on "Soul Glow".

Platinum is very, very good.  It's also likely to be one of the most over-rated albums of 2011.  The mix of names, sounds, styles and history is of the sort to appeal to GRAMMY voters and to institutional critics who have "head everything".  Consequently, don't be surprising if Platinum is named on a host of year-end lists and perhaps even nominated for awards.  It may even deserve such nods by the end of the year, but strip away the novelty and reverie and this is a very fine effort that is worthy of praise but perhaps not to the extent it's likely to receive.  The Headhunters can still create jazz fusion gold, but there are times on Platinum where the level of inspiration falls just a little bit flat.  When all is said and done, however, Platinum will likely be one of the Top-25 selling Jazz albums of 2011, and for good reason.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Headhunters at www.owlstudios.comPlatinum drops on June 14, 2011.  You can pre-order the album from as a CD or Download from

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