Charlie Hunter Trio
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Charlie Hunter Trio


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The best kept secret in music


"LA Times"

Charlie follows up his critically acclaimed Ropeadope release "Right Now Move" (2003) with his first trio record in 12 years- "Friends Seen and Unseen". Charlie says "This is the best record I've ever made." Ropeadope says "Charlie's right!" So go on, open the jewel case, give it a spin and remember "given a few more Charlie Hunters, jazz would have no problem at all solving the problem of how to bring new, young listeners to the music." - Friends Seen and Unseen


Charlie Hunter crafts some of the most colorful, unorthadox, and rhythmically charged jazz in contemporary music. - Charlie Hunter Trio

"LA Times"

Press Reviews

L.A. Times
Don Heckman
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.

- Don Heckman


Friends Seen and Unseen - July 2004 release

Previous Recordings:
Charlie Hunter Trio (Prawn Song Records) 1994
Bing, Bing, Bing! (Blue Note) (1995)
Ready...Set...Shango! (Blue Note) 1996
Natty Dread (Blue Note) 1997
Return of the Candyman (Blue Note) 1998
Duo (Blue Note) 1999
Charlie Hunter (Blue Note) 2000
Songs from the Analog Playground (Blue Note) 2002
Right Now Move 2003


Feeling a bit camera shy


Watch out. Here comes Charlie.
Just off a stint in Europe touring with his rhythm compatriot Bobby Previte, Charlie Hunter is home for a spell, gearing up for his next trio adventure. In a few weeks, he’ll be hitting the road again with his in-the-pocket collaborators, saxophonist John Ellis and drummer Derrick Phillips, supporting their new Ropeadope CD, Friends Seen and Unseen, scheduled for May release.
Meanwhile, Chuck’s just happy to be spending some family time in Montclair, New Jersey and practicing his eight-string guitar. “It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to practice every day,” Hunter says. “I’m ready to start a new chapter in my playing. Every night in the past year I reached these dead ends in my improvising. So, I made mental notes about working on how to plow through these dead ends or get around them.”
With equal parts moxie, humor, hard work and brilliant musicianship, Hunter has made a career out of taking his music to new levels of technique, soul, depth and innovation. It’s significant that his new CD is a trio outing, given that his first album as a leader—the fine Charlie Hunter Trio released on Primus’ Les Claypool’s Prawn Song label distributed by Mammoth—arrived a decade ago.
After exploring a range of band configurations since then, including solo, duo, quartet and quintet, Hunter is back to tripartite improvisation, with renewed commitment and a satchel full of roadblock-busting concepts and praxis. Over the years, he’s successfully steered clear of ruts. While keeping the groove element deep and funky, he’s charted a more expansive musical course—developing an acute sense of lyricism and, as evidenced in his striking balladry, a passionate romanticism. With its scamper beats, cool grooves, blues-bent notes, wah-wah riffs and stop-and-start fluidity, Friends Seen and Unseen is light years away in beauty and variety from Hunter’s early—and elementary—outings. Charlie has graduated and is poised for another round of post-graduate studies.
Last fall, at the Lower East Village jazz club Tonic, he talked about the trio while scarfing down a plate of beans and rice before a show. A unique guitarist who wields an eight-string model that he employs to simultaneously play bass lines, rhythm riffs and melodic leads, Hunter decided earlier in the year to return to the trio format. “I disbanded my quintet because I was going broke,” he said matter-of-factly. “I couldn’t afford to tour with them anymore. It was great writing for that group, but it’s hard to have a quintet or even a quartet exist in this economy.”
Yet this misfortune led Hunter to rediscover the silver lining of a trio. “It’s great having a rhythmic voice and a melodic voice to fit with what I do, which is a combination of rhythm and melody,” he said. “Three is the ultimate in communication. With a quartet, you add another voice but you lose the improvisational ability to stop on a dime. It’s like driving a huge truck compared to being behind the wheel of a Porsche. You cover the entire road with a trio. You can play melodies and counter-melodies and make quick turns. I’ve found with John and Derrick that we can play more open and go into places we’ve never gone before.”
That was illustrated a couple of minutes later at sound check when Hunter fumbled several times through an Ellis arrangement of the traditional song “John Brown.” He followed Ellis’ sax line, then blurted out, “Ahhhhhgh! This is so hard. But let’s try it again really fast so I won’t embarrass myself tonight.” Finally, he succeeded.
“John put all these crazy chords into the arrangement, so it’s difficult to play,” Hunter told me later. “But it’s really fun. Doing this is a challenge. It puts me into a different place I normally wouldn’t go.’’
How does this trio compare to the one he piloted in his early days when he was helping to spearhead the new music movement on San Francisco’s jazz club scene? “Oh, it’s so different,” he said. “What I lacked in musicianship back then, I made up for with sheer will. I was all over the place, and my time was all over the place. We were young, fearless and full of testosterone energy. Now I play with a lot of restraint. I’m more interested in playing in different voicings, like with the wah-wah pedal or playing edgy tones—more melodic gestures instead of fast bebop lines.”
He paused and noted, “I was raw and funky and ragged ten years ago. That was before I met all these incredible artists, people like Bobby, who taught me how to mix paradigms in the music and create new things, instead of staying comfortable in one zone. They increased my musicianship and musicality. That was my motivation in moving to New York in the first place.”
That change of life came in 1997 after Charlie had lived most of his life in Berkeley, the university city across the Bay from San Francisco. It was home base before his relocation East.
A great story teller with a quick wit and pronounced sense of humor