We know, we know. Tribute nights. They're everywhere. Whether you like them or not, a tribute night has probably become something of a non-event in your book. Or maybe Hiss & Vinegar are the only ones who regard them as a lower form of entertainment. Oh, and the Night Avenger, she freaking hates the things. But there is a marked difference between a night zig-zagging from "Candle in the Wind" to "Crocodile Rock" and one spent re-creating and exploring one of the late-20th's most important albums in its entirety.
Especially when that album is Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters, which took jazz fusion to funkier terrain and changed the way people talk about that low-lit genre. Just listen to Porterhouse's Joe Porter talk about the upcoming tribute he's organized to Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters' first three albums.
"If you're a jazzer, you can't just be out there doing 'Caravan' and 'Autumn Leaves' and 'Girl from Ipanema' and shit like that all the time," he says. "It's gotta be--you gotta have your nuts attached, you know what I'm saying?"
Oh, we know exactly what you're saying, Joe. As plainspoken as his phrasing is, Porter gets down to what made Head Hunters, and Hancock's two follow-ups, Thrust and Man-child, such important albums. To take the funk of Sly and the Family Stone and the nontraditional synthesizer and apply them to jazz was at high risk of becoming a disaster in fusion. What Hancock came out with was a progenitor to the funk of the Commodores and Parliament, funk that respected the spaces between the notes and reverberated with the rhythmic intensity of rock and roll. It worked, and it helped turn a new crowd onto what is usually cast as a music for the cultural elite.
Eighteen years after its 1973 release, the chunky synth bass line of Head Hunters' "Chameleon" took a then-19-year-old Porter from the grips of classic rock and delivered him to the beauty of jazz. Now, Porter hopes it will do the same for Portland listeners who come to hear his band perform all three albums in their entirety on Saturday at the Fez Ballroom.
"That's why we're trying to present this whole three or four years of Herbie's career to everybody, 'cause I'm hoping everybody's like, 'Oh, man, that was great. And if they made it sound like that, imagine what Herbie did,'" says Porter, his eyes brightening. "And they'll go out and buy Herbie's record. And it'll change their life like it changed my life. You know? And then they'll be like: 'Oh, I like jazz.'"
The Tribute to Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters will take place Saturday, Oct. 11, at the Fez Ballroom, 316 SW 11th Ave., 221-7262 ext. 41. 9 pm. $10. 21+.