Something Else! Sneak Peek: The Headhunters, "Tracie" (2011)


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The Headhunters have completed an ambitious new jazz release—one that continues to push the edges of fusion, incorporating hip hop and funk with the presence of Snoop Dogg and George Clinton, yet still retains the band's fonky core sound. That's perhaps nowhere better heard than on this standout track from Platinum, to be issued by the Owl Studios label on June 14.

The Latin-tinged “Tracie" begins with a bass line from Richie Goods that sounds like a question mark, surrounded by a sensual, undulating rhythm that's become something a trademark for the Headhunters. Direct connections from their original incarnation as the hip-shaking backing group for Herbie Hancock's blockbuster 1973 collaboration Head Hunters arrive in the form of Bill Summers and Mike Clark, still this rumbling presence on percussion and drums, as well as original Headhunters saxophonist Bennie Maupin. Also featured: altoist Donald Harrison (with Summers and Clark since 2001), and trumpeter Derrick Gardner.

Written in memory of Summers' late wife, the tune finds Maupin switching to tenor—and very nearly stealing the show. But then Gardner provides this sharp, incisive contrast to the fuller, more boisterous sound of a group of saxophones that also includes Rob Dixon, almost like a fast-talking old friend. It's the perfect counterpoint. When the wider group rejoins for a restatement of the main theme, the song flirts with reverie for a moment, but then regathers itself for another brilliant round of soloing. Clark and Summers are joined on the timbales by Alexei Marti, and together they launch “Tracie" forward into its triumphal fade.

If you worried that a Santana-style merry-go-round of guests might push these reunited Headhunters too far afield, “Tracie" quickly, and definitively, puts that to rest.

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