Herbie Hancock ‘Thrust’ / ‘Man-Child’ / ‘Secrets’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 4/5

Multi-keyboardist and ex-Miles alumni Herbie Hancock enjoyed his greatest solo commercial success when he recorded his game-changing ‘Headhunters’ album in 1973 and this new re-issue package takes the story that bit further with the following three studio albums that Hancock and the band cut between 1974 and 1976. While ‘Headhunters’ remains the first and only port of call for many, that would be a mistake because what followed was some of the most exciting and funkiest music ever laid down. If the early 1970s was a period of experimentation for the leader and his Mwandishi project, then by ‘Thrust’ (1974) everything had fallen into place and he had formed a vastly talented and exciting new band. Pride of place goes to the melodic, ‘Butterfly’, that remains one of Hancock’s most endearing compositions, co-written with multi-reedist Bennie Maupin and Jean Hancock. Almost as good is the jam-session groove of ‘Spank-a-Lee’ that enabled the crack rhythm section of bassist Paul Jackson, drummer Mick Clark and percussionist Bill Summers to reign supreme. Another terrific number is, ‘Actual Proof’. These were the original versions of the compositions and they are as strong as anything on ‘Headhunters’. Long-time fans will want the live interpretations available originally in Japan on the ‘Flood’ double album.

By 1975 and the album ‘Man-Child’ the headhunters line-up was rapidly expanding and included Harvey Mason and James Gadson on drums, Louis Johnson sharing bass duties with Paul Jackson, and guest appearances from no less than Wayne Shorter on soprano saxophone and Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Hancock would return the favour by performing on the anthemic, ‘As’, for Wonder on, ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’. A notable new number that would regularly feature on Headhunters concerts is, ‘Hang Up Your Hang Ups’ and once again Hancock had come up with a winning formula of catchy hooks allied with superb playing and inter-action between band members. A new intake of band members came on board in 1976 when the final album here,’Secrets’, was released and Ray Parker Jr. joined on rhythm guitar along with percussionist Kenneth Nash and new drummer James Levi. The sound was less harsh and shorter in length and it was clear that black music in general was heading in an altogether different direction. A reprise of ‘Canteloupe Island’ was given a modern update while the opener, ‘Doin’ It’ was the nearest to the old Headhunters sounds and released as a single. Times were a changing for sure and the advent of disco led to a major rethink on the part of Hancock, the results of which were to be found in the following late 1970s releases chronicled in the very next review. Bonus cuts include single versions of the most famous numbers, but add little to the overall appreciation. Full discographical notes and illustrated as ever by original labels, and a photo of the original band.

Tim Stenhouse