It takes a lot of confidence—some might call it “chutzpah”—to call your new album Platinum, but the latest from the Headhunters may well justify the title. After all, back in the ’70s as the liner notes point out the “band became the first jazz/fusion group to go platinum,” and even a cursory hearing of their latest shows them at the top of their game.
Led by original Headhunters percussionist Bill Summers and drummer Mike Clark, the band lays down an eclectic set of percussion fore-fronted tracks that moves from hip hop to salsa to traditional African rhythms, stopping to sample a cornucopia of other genres along the way. In an online interview with Nick De Riso at Something Else!, Summers describes the vibe. “My personal description for the music we are playing now is New Urban,” he says. “It’s a specific new genre, something that represents all of the metropolis. It’s European, it’s Asian, it’s African. There is lots of jazz, funk, elements of rap. It’s being fair to all of the music. When people hear it, hopefully they feel part of the family.”
Members of the family helping out on some of the tracks are guest artists Snoop Dogg, George Clinton, Killah Priest, Jaecyn Bayne, and Private Pile. Then there’s trumpet stalwart Derrick Gardner, horn player Azar Lawrence, and Jerry Stucker on the guitar. Patrice Rushen shares the keyboard honors with Kyle Roussel, and Headhunter original member, Bennie Maupin, comes back for some work on the soprano sax. Then of course there is the core of the band: bassist Richie Goods, horn players Donald Harrison and Rob Dixon, and Gary Mielke on keyboards. On any given track, you can shake them up and mix and match as needed.
Highlighting the disc are some fine instrumentals. “Tracie,” written by Summers in memory of his late wife, features some sweet trumpet lines by Gardner played over pulsating Latin rhythms after the horn section sets the tone. “M Trane,” Clark’s tribute to John Coltrane written along with Jeff Pittson, begins with a kind of duet between Rushen on the piano and the horns and runs through nearly nine minutes of happy improvisation. “Salamander” lays down a funky groove which according to the liner notes gets picked up again later on in the album in “Skizness” with a Private Pile rap replacing “Salamander’s” dynamic horn solos. Richie Goods’ “Soul Glow” is a throwback that gives the band an opportunity to showcase its straight-ahead chops.
Snoop Dogg is featured on “Funk With Us” where he is joined by Clinton, Priest and Bayne. Bayne opens the album with “Mission Statement,” which is presumably a manifesto describing the band’s new direction. Summers joins Bayne’s rap with a softer vocal on “Apple Tree.” “Congo Place” begins with some throbbing percussion leading to a Donald Harrison vocal punctuated by a chanting chorus that seems to look back to African roots by way of New Orleans. “Head Hunting” is a tour de force for Clark and Summers with a haunting melody that gives the whole band a shot to shine.
Platinum is an album that melds elements of different musical traditions to create a whole that may well be greater than the sum of its parts. In an interview with Dominic Fragman of JazzTimes.com, Mike Clark calls the album ” a cross-generational effort, we mixed up a lot of genres—jazz, funk, African, Latin, and even hip hop on several pieces—that was fun!” It may have been fun for him and the band, but for the listener, it’s a blast.