Charlie Hunter
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Charlie Hunter

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"L.A. Times"

Guitarist Charlie Hunter's performance at the Knitting Factory on Friday night was fascinating in two very distinct ways. It was, first of all, a consistently engaging musical experience. Equally important, it took place before an enthusiastic crowd of young listeners.

The contrast between the audience for Hunter's appearance and the turnout for the Cool and Crazy West Coast Jazz Festival taking place over the weekend in North Hollywood couldn't have been more striking. The latter program was attended primarily by fans with a firsthand recollection of Southland jazz in the '50s. Hunter, on the other hand, drew a crowd whose parents were probably toddlers when the music and the players celebrated at the Cool and Crazy event were at their peak.

Why the age difference in turnout? That's a question that jazz must deal with on a continuing basis. But one distinct reason traces to the fact that Hunter--who has a well-earned reputation as a virtuosic player of the difficult-to-master eight-string guitar--is as conversant with rock and funk music as he is with straight-ahead jazz, playing and blending each style with complete musical fluency. Add to that Hunter's open-minded willingness to position himself within a wide array of musical settings. He frequently works within a quartet setting and, on his most recent album, "Songs From the Analog Playground," included a number of tracks featuring the vocals of Norah Jones and the rapping of Mos Def.

At the Knitting Factory, however, he showed up with a gritty, hard-driving quintet featuring saxophonist John Ellis and trombonist Josh Roseman (frequent Hunter associates), harmonica player Gregoire Maret and drummer Terreon Gully. Often taking a relatively reserved role, Hunter featured the unusual textures produced by the three wind instrumentalists, who occasionally produced even darker-sounding tones when Ellis switched to bass clarinet and Roseman played with a plunger mute.

Pop music, though, it ain't. "We're living in the post-music age," Hunter says, laughing, before explaining how to avoid turning into a clone of Dr. Jivenstein: "I just do what I do and keep a positive attitude,"he explains. "I try to stay away from MTV , just because I feet like it burns my brain, y'know? It just doesn't make me feel good. And I try to concentrate oil things that are organic and, like, uplift me spiritually in a musical way."

As responsive as the crowded house was to the other musicians, however, it was Hunter who was clearly their greatest object of affection. And he rewarded their warm reactions with several extraordinary solos, driving out bass lines on his two lowest strings while simultaneously adding chordal clusters and roving melodies on the top strings. A remarkable feat of dexterity, it was also a stunning demonstration of how to combine technical virtuosity with inventive, briskly swinging improvisation.

Given a few more Charlie Hunters, jazz would have no problem at all in solving the problem of how to bring new, young listeners to the music.

- Don Heckman


"CHARLIE HUNTER TRIO: EVOLUTION"

The latest incarnation of the Charlie Hunter Trio played to a packed house at San Diego's Humphrey's, where Hunter and his current trio brought a new twist to the music from his Copperopolis album.

Copperopolis was released last February and featured his previous trio, which included saxophonist John Ellis and drummer Derrek Phillips. Comparing the two trios is difficult. If you were lucky enough to catch the previous trio in 2005, you could see a certain chemistry had developed over several years. The new trio will get there, but it will take a little time. The connections are forming - Hunter and new drummer Simon Lott were making eye contact and playing off one another throughout the show.



Lott & Hunter :: 06.06.06
The Hunter/Ellis/Phillips trio was rooted in jazz. By the time they put out Copperopolis a shift in direction was underway toward rock-fusion, though they still had a strong jazz foundation. The Lott/Deutsch trio differs in that it has a sound rooted in the jamband genre. Keyboardist Erik Deutsch plays Fender Rhodes and a Casio with a variety of effects, giving him a sound somewhat like Marco Benevento. Drummer Simon Lott attacks the drums with precision while maintaining a Billy Martin like groove.

The set opened with an extended version of "Blue Sock" from Copperopolis. Hunter seemed focused on crunchy, semi-distorted chords and fast moving bass lines. In the middle of the set during "Drop the Rock" the rock was dropped pretty hard. Heads bopped in the crowd during a dub style take on "Frontman."

This is Hunter's second pass at the material on Copperopolis and with the introduction of a new band, it seems like its being taken in a different direction. It's hard to pinpoint the new sound. Sometimes it rocks a little harder than the old trio, other times it can be looser and more atmospheric.

The first set was a little light on Hunter's patented virtuosic, double-brain solos, and near the end of it he was holding his left hand. I bumped into him during the set break and asked him what was up? He said he had whacked it on a metal chair and could hardly use his pinky during the first set. I imagine playing two instruments at once is extremely difficult, and even more so if you're down a finger.



Simon Lott :: 06.06.06
At the end of the set break, "Jesus Left Chicago" was playing over the PA. After returning to the stage, the trio jumped right into their own version of the ZZ Top classic. From there they moved into a reworked version of "Cueball Boppin." The Hendrix-style riff was gone, replaced with a progression of quick, funky chords. When it came time to solo Hunter stepped up big, turning on the heavy distortion and laying into some nasty riffs. Top notch soloing ended up being the theme for the short second set.

The evolution of Charlie Hunter continues with his latest trio. They're proved they can mold the songs from Copperopolis into a sound of their own. It will be interesting to see what sort of new material they will work into their arsenal. With a sound that is a little more rock and groove focused than his past projects, this could be the band that the jamband scene has been waiting for Hunter to assemble.
- Jambase


"Charlie Hunter Trio"

PREVIEW Charlie Hunter is a bargain hunter's dream: he's two musicians for the price of one. Hunter plays a custom-made Novax eight-string guitar that has two separate signals for guitar and bass outputs, allowing him to sound like he's playing guitar and bass at the same time. If you weren't paying close attention, you wouldn't even notice there was only one guitar onstage. This is not to imply that the band is all gimmicky technique: the Charlie Hunter Trio puts on one of the funkiest, most melodic, and all-around enjoyable jazz shows around.

Even though he’s known for switching members of his band on a regular basis, Hunter runs a tight ship, making sure that everyone he plays with has chops to spare. It's clear that he likes Yoshi's, as he regularly has multiple-night residencies there, and the intimacy of the room does complement his style well. Also, while playing, Hunter delivers a nonstop parade of ridiculous "I'm concentrating very hard" faces that by themselves are worth the price of admission. (Aaron Sankin)
- San Francisco Bay Guardian


"Copperopolis Review"

It’s for more than formality that this disc should be credited to
the group rather the individual. ’Tis the group that’s the star here.
Motifs and coloration change from tango-meets-New Orleans second
line to Mingus-by-way-of-Carla Bley and parts beyond. Moods
transit from bashing good jazz-rock fun to more introspective fare.
The constant on this set is the congeniality of this threesome’s
interaction. If the play is not brilliant it is inspired-sounding and
true to the spirit of improvisation. Guitarist and ersatz bassist Hunter,
reed and keyboard man John Ellis and drummer Derrek Phillips
are reportedly together for the last time and one can only hope
their future ventures can generate as many tasty moments as
they bring forth on Copperopolis. Duane Verh - Jazz and Blues


Discography

Les Claypool's Prawn Song Records (1994)
Bing, Bing, Bing! (1995)
Ready...Set...Shango! (1996)
Natty Dread (1997)
Return of the Candyman (1998)
Duo (1999)
Charlie Hunter (2000)
Songs from the Analog Playground (2002)
Right Now Move (2003)
Friends Seen And Unseen (2004)
Steady Groovin
Copperopolis (ROPEADOPE 2006)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Charlie Hunter’s time and place are here and now. With his unique instrument, an eight-string bass/guitar combination of his own design, Hunter has established himself as one of the most tasteful and innovative bandleaders in music. With Songs from the Analog Playground, Hunter has for the first time brought vocalists and a road-tested instrumental ensemble into the mix. The result is his most cohesive and accessible effort yet.

The four singers who contribute to Songs from the Analog Playground include Theryl de Clouet from New Orleans jazz-funk band Galactic and rapper Mos Def, as well as Blue Note recording artists Kurt Elling and Norah Jones. Says Hunter of his decision to bring vocals into the studio, "That's the kind of music I was brought up on. As a street musician that's all you played, because if you played instrumental music you really went broke."

De Clouet was called into the studio with Hunter and his band in New York from a Philadelphia tour stop. His vocals on the buoyant Earth,Wind and Fire cover "Mighty Mighty" are gruff and soulful, adding a potent edge to the Charlie Hunter Quartet's polished sound. He also sings on the slow, spooky rendition of the Willie Dixon-penned standard "Spoonful."

Norah Jones was called in after Hunter heard her demo CD (the same demo CD that resulted in the recent signing of the young singer to Blue Note), and as Hunter says, "She came into the studio and kicked butt." Jones' breathy alto graces two of the more unexpected cover tunes on Songs from the Analog Playground: Roxy Music's "More Than This" and the show-stealing closer, Nick Drake's "Day Is Done."

Hunter intended for Mos Def to lay down some rhymes, and instead the rapper transformed himself into a tender soul singer on "Creole" (for which Hunter wrote the music and Mos Def wrote the lyrics). He also recorded the rap for the album opener, the Latin percussion vamp "Street Sounds."

Kurt Elling, a friend of Hunter's and noted jazz singer, recorded his vocals after the instrumental tracks for the original song "Desert Way" and the standard "Close Your Eyes" were laid down— the only overdubs on the record.

Hunter describes his synthesis of jazz, fusion, funk, blues and rock as simply "rhythm music," and he and his band—saxophonist John Ellis, drummer Stephen Chopek and percussionist Chris Lovejoy—live up to the title from the opening moments of Songs from the Analog Playground. The quartet has been together for over a year, and has played over 200 shows in that time – par for the course for the road-warrior Hunter. On previous albums, the guitarist assembled his groups just
before entering the studio; this time, his road-tested band brought a practiced chemistry to the recording process. "Our whole thing just lives and dies by the band's playing together," Hunter says. "Really, the sum is more than its parts."

Hunter, Ellis, Chopek and Lovejoy provide lush backup for the four singers on Songs from the Analog Playground, but they really shine on the album's five instrumental tracks. With ample room to stretch their legs, the quartet has a soothing melodic to balance its rhythmic virtuosity. The nimble syncopation of "Rhythm Music Rides Again" and the spacious groove of "Percussion Shuffle" provide a launching pad for Chopek and Lovejoy to strut their stuff, showing why Hunter praises their ability to work in tandem as a fluid percussion machine. "Run For It" and the enigmatically titled "Mitch Better Have My Bunny" let Hunter and Ellis take the lead with graceful melodic runs and stirring solos. Hunter performs the short-but-sweet "Sunday Morning" by himself, displaying his remarkable ability to play guitar and bass parts simultaneously on his guitar.

Charlie Hunter grew up in Berkeley, California. At the age of 12 he invested $7 in his first guitar, and after countless hours of playing and taking lessons with a local guitar teacher named Joe Satriani, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He played guitar and bass in the Michael Franti-led rap group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and on the side he developed first a seven-string guitar-bass hybrid and later, in 1992, the first prototype of his current eight-string model. Even today, he says he still feels like he's just beginning to learn how to play the complex guitar. "I've grown accustomed to the limitations of it and have learned how to work within them, and what to focus on," he says. "It's a bear of an instrument, but as time goes by I'm getting better on it and creating more of a vocabulary on it, and getting more musical on it. And that's the goal."

Hunter's jazz vocabulary is largely based on keyboard players like Jimmy Smith, Larry Young, and Big John Patton, and he will often coax tones from his guitar that sound eerily like a Hammond organ. He recorded his debut as a bandleader for Les Claypool's Prawn Song Records in 1994, then signed with Blue Note and has since released six albums: Bing, Bing, Bing! (1995)