Reviews

Charlie Hunter Trio

Stuart Henderson

The jamband audience insists upon a progression of kinetic grooves; jazz listeners require remarkable, focused musicianship. The Charlie Hunter Trio didn’t have quite enough of either.

Charlie Hunter Trio

Charlie Hunter Trio

City: Toronto, ON, Canada
Venue: Revival
Date: 2008-02-20

The first time I saw Charlie Hunter was about ten years ago, in Montréal. A pal brought me down to the Metropolis, and we pushed our way up through the throng of dancers to the middle of the floor. While she danced her ass off, I stood there (as usual) with my knees bouncing goofily, drinking it all in (it’s generally a good idea for me to resist the urge to dance). What we heard that night really was something: a wild set full of fuzzy noise, slick grooves, jammy collaboration, and p-h-a-t beats. Of course -- and this is true, I swear -- the one bummer was that I couldn’t believe how boring the bass player was. He was such a stay-at-home player, so tied to these basic little lines. I thought it was peculiar for a funk band. Where was the wicked booming bottom? And then I realized there was no bass player onstage. Charlie Hunter was playing THE BASS AND THE GUITAR AT THE SAME TIME. Hunter's custom-made instrument is a curious hybrid of bottom and top, and he plays both the basslines and the guitar solos simultaneously. That’s helpful to know, because it means you’ll understand why the bass player isn’t wailing. He’s busy wailing on the guitar. This time around, Hunter and his New York-based trio played Toronto as part of the NuFunk Festival. The disappointing turnout didn’t seem to affect them; the trio came onstage all smiles and hellos, its members' enthusiasm apparent and contagious. Dance-ready twentysomethings moved forward and crowded around the stage, ready for a groove. The jazz aficionados stood on tables and benches in the back, prepared for what was advertised as a true guitar hero playing with his airtight downtown jazz band. Curiously, the trio squandered much of this pent-up excitement, launching into a series of slow-burners, each of the first three lasting around 15 minutes. As the audience stood there -- a bit unsure of just how to get down to this stuff -- the trio never looked back. The boys hit their stride, offering some searing mid-tempo blues-based numbers, all designed to showcase Hunter’s ridiculous skills on his custom-made hybrid (with its weird, twisted neck). The stride was mellow, unhurried, and dreamy. Not much to shake a leg at.

Somewhere amid this smooth grooving, it became clear why the room was a mere quarter full. The musicians, although undoubtedly immersed in their work and apparently flowing freely, offer a product that falls into the funny furrow between jamband and jazzband. This might sound meaningless (and perhaps it should) but the two audiences demand very different things from their music. The jamband audience insists upon a progression of kinetic grooves; jazz listeners require remarkable, focused musicianship. The Charlie Hunter Trio didn’t have quite enough of either. The jams were extensive, the guitar solos fluid and proficient, and yet the hybrid crowd was reduced to an absentminded, if benevolent, collective indifference. It didn't help that Hunter played from a chair, generating little energy with his foot-tapping and head-rocking. But it was the general pace of the affair that really hit sour. With nearly every number falling in the same mid-speed range, the intensity level rarely bubbled above a simmer. While the hippie kids -- all fired up on smelly pot and powdery what-have-you -- yelped their encouragement at the stage, Hunter’s set list restrained them to a frustrated knee bounce and an occasional (if sort of awkward) roof-raising. Not that it’s a musician’s job, necessarily, to give the people what they want -- indeed, it’s pretty thrilling sometimes to see bands who refuse to go through those motions. That said, it probably is the responsibility of a jamband. I mean, what’s the point of a 20-minute rumbling blues number if there is to be no emotional peak, no dark valley -- just endless, apparently self-congratulatory riffing? Now, that riffing was pretty hot, mind you. Hunter is a guitar whiz, as advertised. And Tony Mason (drums) and Eric Deutsch (keyboards) are certainly capable, if restrained, sidemen. Even so, neither managed to rise above the fray, delivering that special noise, that glorious moment that one heads to the jam to witness. They just played, and it all sounded good. It sounded good, but not good enough that you couldn’t look away, couldn’t take your ears off the progression, your mind off the soloist as he explored the possibilities of the tune. In fact, almost everyone around me talked through the whole thing as if it were all mere background music to a night at the club. As one clearly bored university student said to her date (who was not amused by the comment): “It’s like Medeski Martin & Wood -- but without the awesome organist, bassist, and drummer.” Yikes.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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