The Headhunters return to Seattle with New Orleans-inspired album
The Headhunters have always emphasized rhythm, going back to their formation with Herbie Hancock in 1973. Happily grooving on (mostly) without Hancock ever since, The Headhunters preview their 50th anniversary in 2023 with a new album inspired by the hometown of some of the band's newer members.
A New Orleans jazz icon, The Headhunters saxophonist Donald Harrison is a Mardi Gras Indian Chief, and touring keyboardist Kyle Roussel is a member of the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Plus, New Orleans native Stephen Gordon played keyboards on the album.
Set for a Nov. 4 release, the new album Speakers In The House includes The Headhunters longtime rhythm partners Mike Clark (drum kit) and Bill Summers (percussion), and the album's bass player Reggie Washington is also rhythmically inclined. His brother is the great jazz drummer Kenny Washington. The groovy rhythms of The Headhunters are still front and center, but are now embracing the city where funk was born.
"Speakers In The House" shows a legendary band embarking on a new journey.
This collection is The Headhunters' first in eleven years and marks a natural turning point for the great fusion band. Elastic synthesizers and electric keyboards share and contrast melodic lines with saxophone, but the earthy inspirations of the Crescent City take the band's music in a more organic direction.
They're still celebrating music styles from around the globe, as Speakers In The House opens with guest Fode Sissoko playing kora on "Kongo Square." It's a good reminder that New Orleans is America's original melting pot.
Though the first single "Rocking at the Mole House" is a reference to Clark's childhood home in California, the spirit of New Orleans is present in the loose, bouncy beat. Harrison's sax lines recall late night urban landscapes and the pulsing keyboards employ intriguing Middle Eastern harmonics.
The mid-tempo "Vaspurakan" is a searching but mainstream ride that follows the saxophone solo into atmospheric keyboards supporting the Clark-Summers rhythm. Meanwhile the moody "HH 75" and relaxed "Stoop" slow the tempo while setting scenes for the coolest of cats taking it easy at the end of a long night.
The Headhunters increase the pace on "Over the Bar," a good time funk raver with a doubled saxophone theme, rubbery bass from Washington and an acoustic piano finish. "Actual Proof" — a reworking of Hancock's classic with the band — also employs acoustic piano which brings a fresh new sound to this audience favorite.
The album closer "Stop Watch" pushes the band with a complex rhythm pattern, though Gordon's piano and Harrison's sax relish the opportunities provided by the quick changes from Clark and Summers.
Speakers In The House shows a legendary band embarking on a new journey, though the music is still fit for a party of equal parts intelligence and indulgence.
Nearly 50 years on, The Headhunters continue to move the feet and hips of their fans, and KNKX is proud to present this New Orleans-version of the band with touring bassist Chris Severin at Nectar Lounge Wednesday, Oct. 19 featuring special guest DJ Logic.
The Headhunters will also perform an exclusive studio session at the KNKX studios during their Seattle visit. We'll share this performance over Zoom with our worldwide audience on the third annual Public Radio Music Day, Oct. 26. Register to attend this free virtual event.
The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND