Charlie Hunter Quintet

Matt Rogers
Charlie Hunter Quintet

Charlie Hunter Quintet

City: New York
Venue: No Moore
Date: 2003-02-27
Mr. Tambourine Man "The bass / the treble / don't make the rebel / playing the tambourine does." is a fucking tambourine. Cool. Charlie rocks!" in response. So why split hairs? It's a large tambourine. The point is that with his talent, Charlie Hunter can play anything he damn well pleases. And he can play it exceptionally well. Best known for his uncanny ability to play bass and electric guitar on a specially made eight-string axe (three bass strings above five electric guitar strings, all on the same guitar neck), he has garnered a hefty worldwide fan base over the last decade or so. He has also been prolific in the album department, churning out nine albums in nine years, many of them for the seminal jazz label, New Jersey-based Blue Note Records. In support of his tenth album effort, Right Now Move, due out later this month on Rope A Dope records, the Charlie Hunter Quintet set up shop last month for five once-a-week gigs at No Moore, a narrow bi-level club in downtown Manhattan. These shows were reminiscent of Hunter's early San Francisco days (nights, really) -- right after his 1993 stadium tour as bassist for industrial hip hoppers, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (who opened for Public Enemy and U2) -- in which his group would hole up in the cozy confines of the Elbow Room or Up and Down Club and lay out whatever the vibe was that night. I saw him many a time then, as did a slew of others, and it's probably safe to say that he is responsible for turning thousands of young white listeners, who were busy listening to Primus, Metallica and the Grateful Dead, onto the complex magnificence of jazz. There were (and are) many reasons for his accessibility. Initially, the Charlie Hunter Trio (and then later, Quartet, Duo, Solo, and Quintet) made it clear that they could lay down and sustain a groove. With Hunter emulating Hammond B3 chords on his guitar, the sound was similar to the great propagators of 1960s soul jazz, like Jack McDuff and Charles Earland. In '95, on his first Blue Note release, he deftly covered Nirvana's "Come As You Are", which became a huge hit during subsequent shows. Then, in '97, when the Charlie Hunter Quartet covered Bob Marley's entire Natty Dread album, the jamband base was solidified. Now you can find Charlie Hunter fans all over, from Phish concerts to Van Halen reunion tours. And I have no doubts that, if he wanted to, Charlie Hunter could blast guitar solos like Eddie. Another big reason people go to lengths to see Charlie Hunter perform is because it is really, really cool to watch someone play bass, lead and rhythm guitar, and organ all at the same time on the same guitar, no matter the genre of music or lineup. It's that simple, really. But I guess Hunter got a bit bored with this once novel act, and just had to learn the tambourine -- I mean, pandeiro. So, armed with his new toy and trusted eight-string, Hunter and the rest of the quintet -- Geoff Clapp on drums, Alan Ferber on trombone, John Ellis on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Gregoire Maret on chromatic harmonica -- played two hour-long sets that revolved around that soul jazz groove. This was music you could dance to, and many people did just that, in that weird, jerky Grateful Deadhead sort of way (what we used to call, growing up, the Dirt Dance). The songs were mostly from the upcoming album, and often stretched beyond the ten-minute mark, each musician feeding off the others' efforts. They were all more than adept at their instruments, exuding a comfort with one another that allowed for both elastic improvisation and loose booty. On cuts such as "Winky", "Whoop Ass", and "Oakland" the bass was heavy and locked in with the horns in that early, East Bay Tower of Power way, funkin' up the noisy crowd. It isn't often that one hears a chromatic harmonica coming from a "jazz" ensemble, and that's a shame. For it was sheer beauty that Gregoire Maret was able to elicit from his, adding rich textures to the harmonies being pushed from the tenor sax and trombone. His playing will bring forth obvious comparisons to the Danish virtuoso Lee Oskar (and not just for the 'fro-like hair), who revolutionized the possibilities for funk and soul harmonica with his gloriously dynamic group, War. Maret's harmonica was nicely matched by John Ellis' use of the bass clarinet on "Wade in the Water" and "Le Bateau Ivre", two mellow numbers that showcased the quintet's lush, thick sound. And of course there was Charlie Hunter on guitar, alternating between the rich organ of John Patton and the virtuoso picking of Wes Montgomery. What more can be said about the man's guitar abilities that hasn't been said? Which brings us back to that lovely jazz oddity: the pandeiro. In the right set of hands, this instrument could make a full house at Madison Square Garden wave their hands in the air. A few of us just didn't care and did just that during Hunter's extended slap happy pandeiro runs, which he used as intros and breaks for various numbers. He would hold the pandeiro directly over a mic, so that a multi-toned boom filled the room, setting the rhythm for his mates to follow. This would often lead to Hunter getting excited and slapping the tom tom drum or snare to the beat of whatever Geoff Clapp was doing with his nimble drumsticks. It was more than a stunt: Charlie Hunter really can play the tambourine. I swear. Go see him do it for yourself. Right now. Move!

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.