Take two incredible albums like "Headhunters" and it's sequel "Thrust" and throw away what you thought they were because once you hear the assorted tracks from those albums live, your perception will never be quite the same. Both original albums have passed the quarter century mark, and it is a pleasure to hear live (if you will, alternate) versions of these songs. Don't get me wrong, it is great to hear Chameleon and Spank-A-Lee as they were on the album. But I've been hearing them the same way, with the same solos, and the same breaks, and the same drum hits, for over 20 years. Come on! Who doesn't want to hear Herbie or Bennie stretch live for twelve minutes over these great grooves?
The album starts out simply enough with Maiden Voyage. However, Herbie decides to take us out to sea by himself this time...no bass, no drums, no horns. Pure beauty and tranquility all the way. With a trilling signal (at 6:24) everyone is in for the ride...including Bennie Maupin on flute! They segue directly into Actual Proof. But Herbie is still on acoustic piano! This is what I am talking about. I have listened to Actual Proof for years, but to hear it on acoustic piano!?! No Arps, no Moogs, no Rhodes, no Clavinets, just a trio (piano, bass, drums)! It is Pure Magic!
This cd was recorded live in Japan over two nights at two different venues 3 days apart. The remaining songs are electric and from the other concert. They launch into Spank-A-Lee. Paul Jackson and Mike Clark (with Bill Summers on percussion) ride the groove into the Elysian Fields of funk to introduce Herbie. Bennie is deep in the soul pocket on all of these songs, regardless of the instrument. And Herbie...'nuff said. The only person who seems a little out of place is Blackbird McKnight on guitar. Herbie originally designed these songs to work without a guitar on purpose, and sometimes it is very evident that there is no room for McKnight to groove in the arrangement and he is stunted in most of his contributions.
Watermelon Man is its usual "funky-as-you-wanna-be" self. Bennie is The Man on soprano sax here. No longer is he relegated to playing minimalistic lines like on the album, but gets his full share of blowing-time.
Butterfly is, in the shadow of Vein-Melter, the one mellow piece in the set. Both beautiful and edgy, tranquil and propulsive all at the same time.
Chameleon is the funk party of this disk, as one would expect. At the first strains of the synthesized bass figure the crowd cheers. Mike Clark (vastly underrated) lays the funk carpet down for everyone else to parade and strut their stuff. Herbie gets rather self-indulgent with the Arps and Moogs too a fault, but the atmosphere is still there.
The Magnum-Opus of the disk has to be Hang Up Your Hang Ups clocking in just shy of 20 minutes. This is the only song where Blackbird McKnight's contribution comes to fruition. Mike Clark slips in and skips away hi-hat and snare hits like skimming stones across a pond. Bennie gets real raw on soprano for this one! Herbie's solo is the usual great fare that we are accustomed to.
The only thing that I would change is Chameleon. The noodling on synths by Herbie does get annoying. I would take either less (or preferably no) noodling or another song in its place like Palm Grease or Sly. But get it regardless. Whether you like this era of music for the sheer kitsch value of hearing that 70's electric funk sound, or you dig the keyboard lines herbie puts down and the musical contributions by the other band members, you will never be sorry for having bought this album.