The in-demand trombonist Andy Hunter is a winner of many trombone competitions and member of acclaimed big bands such as the Mingus Big Band/Dynasty, Bjorkestra, Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and the Dave Holland Big Band. Hunter’s been in some notable smaller bands, too, and co-leads the Spoke quartet with Dan Loomis, Justin Wood and Danny Fischer. With all this and more under his belt, Hunter was ready to lead a date, and thusly came forth Think Like A Mountain.
Hunter explains the title this way: “A mountain has no allegiance to the borders that rise and fall along its slops; it is rooted in this one world, and reaches toward another.” This ” musical homage to the intersection of cities and nature,” likewise is rooted firmly in the world of jazz tradition, but reaching out to something beyond that. Grounded in the creative methods of Mingus and Holland more than anybody else, Hunter put together a band to sketch our his vision of mainstream jazz that is adventurous enough to stand apart from the mainstream, but not so much to lose sight of its virtues. He enlisted Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Jason Marshall (baritone saxophone), Dave Kikoski (fender rhodes), Boris Kozlov (acoustic bass), and Spoke band mate Fischer (drums and cymbals) to help establish his musical footprint through six Hunter originals and a couple of standards.
The choice of a Rhodes over a piano is a crucial one, where the rest of the band is acoustic. The resonance and pliability of the instrument moves the music in different direction than if an acoustic piano way employed, and how it works with the all that brass is joyful noise, and the combination is exploited a number of different ways. On the title song, a stately combination of Hunter, Sipiagin and Marshall ushers in an odd bass figure over a “Shh/Peaceful” (from Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way) pulse and Kikoski’s electric piano made to sound like Chick Corea, ca. 1972. It’s fusion sounding all right, but listen to how it’s being played, and you’ll find nothing but jazz. Hunter himself expresses himself in such imaginative ways that are rangy and fresh.
“Astringent” demonstrates how this setting works as a ballad, with Hunter’s sorrowful utterances showing the influence for former mentor Robin Eubanks, and intertwined so naturally with Sipiagin’s trumpet (and eventually, Marshall’s baritone sax, too). Kikoski doesn’t solo but lays out a warm, tonal layer underneath that seems to balance the three, highly engaged horns. “Ampersand Band” exploits the funk qualities of the Rhodes, a wah-wah electric piano finding its place amid Fischer’s lopsided rhythms and the front line in an RnB tinged number that brings to mind the Crusaders, only more artful.
On the sturdy standard “What Is This Thing Called Love,” a Brazilian styled original opening statement is used, followed by some creative handing off of theme carrying duties between Hunter and Sipiagin. Kikoski offers up hard swinging solo, followed by crisp solos from Hunter and Sipiagin. The other borrowed tune is “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” which in its waltz pace and gracious horns is a sublime rendering of this song. The album ends with a gentle blues sporting a long-assed name, “Post-Occupational Hazards For The Pre-Occupied 99%…Blues,” a righteous dirge featuring a boss baritone sax solo by Marshall.
Think Like A Mountain went on sale at retailers everywhere on October 30, by River Records. Visit Andy Hunter’s website for more info.