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Headhunters: On Top: Live in Europe

Mark F. Turner By

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It's been said that true funk can be imitated but never duplicated. But in the case of the Headhunters's 2 CD live recording On Top, the band—named after Herbie Hancock's 1973 groundbreaking release, Head Hunters (Columbia)—continues to uphold the groove.

Master percussionist Bill Summers, one of the original members since the 1970s, has kept the essence of Hancock's music alive through various releases including 2003's Evolution Revolution (Basin Street Records). Recorded in Paris, France, this live document also includes another longtime band member Mike Clark (drums) and newer members TM Stevens (bass), Mark Shim (saxophone), Jerry Z (keyboards), and saxophonist Donald Harrison on one track.

The unrelenting performance engages an enthusiastic European audience in a wild party atmosphere (in contrast to typical U.S. jazz concerts); the music is a throwback to the sounds of James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and other funk progenitors. Heavy beats, thumping electric bass, iced keyboards, and intense solos are all part of the flow on tracks that include "Swamp Thing" and a most serious cover of "Sly" from Hancock's 1973 recording.

Clark's drumming is superlative and Stevens's impressive bass work rivals the playing of three more renowned power bassists—Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten's Thunder (Heads Up International, 2008). Jerry Z's groovy keyboarding and Shim's deep toned saxophone echoes the voices of Hancock's dazzling keys and Maupin's sinewy bass clarinet on earlier collaborations. Shim is of particular note, bringing not only Maceo Parker soulfulness but also avant-groove chops on "Loft Funk."

Summers is like an African jazz/funk griot—performing, engaging, and teaching where one of the highlights includes his famous bottle-whistling on the classic "Watermelon Man" as he instructs the audience on the melody's introduction. Another is the ever-smooth "Butterfly" featuring Donald Harrison's splendid horn. The second disk retreads a couple of radio-edit tracks but makes up for them with more live music and an eight minute bonus video of a performance in Bobigny, France.

Fusion or jam band, old school or new school, for anyone else who digs da funk, this is the real deal.

Track Listing: CD1: 4 String Drive; Swamp Thing; Sly; Watermelon Man; Loft Funk; Butterfly. CD2: Neckbones; 4 String Drive (Radio Edit); God Make Me Funky; Butterfly (Radio Mix); Shekere Elegua/Chameleon.

Personnel: Mike Clark: drums; Mark Shim: saxophone; T.M. Stevens: bass, vocals; Bill Summers: percussion; Jerry Z: keyboards; Donald Harrison: saxophone (CD1#6, CD2#4).

Title: On Top: Live in Europe | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: BHM Productions


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