Headhunters with Herbie Hancock | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Headhunters with Herbie Hancock 

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Of all the musicians who escaped Miles Davis's orbit to colonize their own planets in the 70s, pianist Herbie Hancock stayed closest to the master's fusion funk. By emphasizing the oozing rhythms and thick, sweet colors of the black pop music of the day, Hancock turned jazz-rock fusion into jazz-soul fusion. So when the musicians he'd first assembled for 1974's Head Hunters put out two more albums under that name after Hancock moved on, it shocked no one that the records dripped with wah-wah-washed, backbeat-heavy funk. But who expected that two decades later the band would manage to pick up where it left off? On this year's delightful Return of the Headhunters (Verve), Hancock's long-ago sidemen--reedist Bennie Maupin (who played bass clarinet on Miles's 1969 fusion breakthrough Bitches Brew), electric bassist Paul Jackson, percussionist Bill Summers, and drummer Mike Clark (who joined Hancock's crew after Head Hunters)--sound as tight as ever. The rhythms find pockets just as deep and a little bit wider: the band can integrate the occasional rap or dance beat without raising an eyebrow. And the combined experience of the players results in some pure jazz jams that practically rock the stage, spearheaded by the multidimensional Maupin. When I heard the band this summer, they teased the music's rhythmic confines with their improvisations, but kept things unpretentious, as any reunion band ought to. Jackson and Clark play with an unusual lyricism, soaring above the grim mass of electric-funk rhythm machines out there. Most intriguingly, although Hancock's the admitted star, he neither leads nor even dominates the band; he wears his sideman status well, hanging back in the mix and playing understated solos. Sunday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Beth Herzhaft.

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