In 1973 Herbie Hancock assembled a team of musicians for his jazz-funk crossover album Head Hunters. That band adopted the album’s title as their own stage name, and since then the band have performed together with a litany of collaborators and guest musicians. Hancock left the band in the 70s but original members Bill Summers (percussion), Mike Clark (drums) and Paul Jackson (bass) continued to tour and release material to widespread acclaim.
Tonight, as the DJ slides down the fader on his warm up set, Summers alone takes to the stage. From behind his congas he announces his line up. Neither Paul Jackson or Mike Clark will be coming tonight, instead being replaced by Chris Severin on bass and Harvey Mason on drums. Mason featured on the very first Headhunters album with Hancock back in ’73 and was superseded by Clark the following year.
Joined onstage by keyboards and sax they kick off with a composition called ‘Four String Drive’ from Mike Clark and Paul Jackson’s 1991 album The Funk Stops Here, each member introducing themselves by way of a solo, and stop-start fashioned breaks in between for applause. Up and comer Kyle Roussel covers a restrained keys solo, while Severin shows off the upper range of his 7-string bass to great effect. It’s not until ‘Tracie’, from their latest album Platinum, that Roussel really shows off his chops on a down and dirty Rhodes solo.
Tonight’s show doesn’t run without its own share of problems. There are technical issues with the sound throughout the night, culminating in a minute or two of bass feedback during ‘Butterfly’, and low keyboard levels for most of the performance. Severin struggles with some of the bass parts during the evening, no doubt due to being a late addition to tonight’s line up, but he’s spurred on by Summers who rallies the crowd behind him.
Summers also takes a moment to showcase his vocal talents, as well as his hometown roots, with an interactive call and response segmenet in the style of a New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian chant. This ends as Summers whistles the intro of ‘Watermelon Man’ through a beer bottle. A rendition of ‘Chameleon’ tops the night off and gets everyone on their feet. There’s a great buzz despite the shaky moments earlier in the evening. It’s the opening leg of a new tour that was almost cancelled due to illness, and despite a tough mountain of repertoire to climb for the last minute additions, they pulled together and stuck it out. It’s at least somewhat reassuring for the mere mortals among us to know that even The Headhunters can have a tough gig.