Charlie Hunter – Charlie Hunter (2000)

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by Pico

From Stanton Moore we make a short hop to his Garage A Trois bandmate Charlie Hunter.

Even among eccentric acid-jazz musicians, Hunter stands out. First of all, for all the soul-jazz, funk and world fusion he paints on his canvas, he is a bop man at heart; most of his records will even feature a Mingus or Monk-type cover. Secondly, his music has a more organic feel, with relatively less accompaniement and little or no use of synthesizers. And lastly, there’s his guitar: an eight-string Novax. Three bass strings and five treble guitar strings.

His mastery of this double instrument is a wonder almost on par with Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s simultaneous playing of up to 5 wind instruments. (Nobody, and I mean nobody can replicate an organ sound from a guitar better than Charlie Hunter.)

Hunter has been around as a leader since his debut Charlie Hunter Trio in 1993. Since then, he has tinkered with different band configurations, especially after his alto sax player Calder Spanier was tragically killed in 1997. Two years later he hooked up with percussion whiz Leon Parker for the two-man trio set Duo. Charlie followed up with this article’s topic, the self-titled Charlie Hunter.

More than any probably any of his sixteen proper releases, CH is not a record about a band or a concept, just Hunter himself and his unique presentation of music. He does carry over Parker from the previous release but for four tracks also uses a lean horn section consisting of a sax (Peter Apfelbaum of the Hieroglyphics Ensemble) and trombone (Josh Roseman), and one is Hunter solo.

While he possesses virtuosity on the guitar, Hunter is never into showing off; he devotes his playing to the music itself and the overall sound. That’s always been the case on his records and doesn’t change, here. Add to that, Hunter’s songs are usually bass-centered; he will declare the basic melody on those top three strings and comp around it on the bottom five. It’s what gives his music that groove.

Parker, with his students Stephen Chopek and Robert Perkins, provide a significant supporting role in giving the music a decidedly Latin underpinning, especially on tunes like Two for Bleu and the Thelonius cover Epistrophy, the former containing a nice tight integration of the guitar, bass, percussion with the horns. And not only can you dance to it, you want to.

Rendezvous Avec la Verite is sans the horns but the marriage of the triple threat percussion set to mid-tempo with Hunter perfectly mimicking a B-3 Hammond on his Novax is one of the most wonderfully weird clashes of two worlds. Flau Flau shows off Hunter’s blues chops, again going for feel and finesse over flamboyance.

Roseman’s weeping ‘bone on this and other tracks harkens all the way back to Dixieland jazz. Al Green is a ballad that captures the soul of the namesake, with the leader again putting on a faux B-3 clinic. Always a shrewd chooser of covers, Hunter ends the album with a beautiful solo rendition of Donnie Hathaway’s Someday We’ll All Be Free.

With all of his albums being solid efforts, someone trying to test the waters of this one of a kind artist could have a tough decision to make on which release to take the dive with. Because there’s no commitment to a single format or concept, the one that’s self -titled is the ideal starter kit for Hunter fandom.

And once you wrap your mind around this one—even if it will take a while, you will—there’s so many places to go from here. Enjoy the journey.

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