Music

Charlie Hunter Trio: Friends Seen and Unseen

Marshall Bowden

Charlie Hunter Trio

Friends Seen and Unseen

Label: Rope A Dope
US Release Date: 2004-07-13
UK Release Date: 2004-07-12
Amazon
iTunes

Charlie Hunter has been plying his groove-laden 8-string guitar work for some time now, and has become a popular fixture among both modern jazz guitar fans and jam band fans. His uncanny ability to play bass lines, provide chord comping, and still play stellar solos, as well as the fact that his guitar sometimes sounds rather like a Hammond B-3 organ certainly helped gain him notice. However, the novelty of Hunter's dexterity would have worn off long ago if not for the fact that he is constantly challenging himself and providing his listeners with new contexts for his sound. After a series of trio albums, Hunter presented listeners with a soul-jazz quartet on Ready . . . Set . . . Shango!. 2001's Songs from the Analog Playground found him playing with a series of guest vocalists that included Norah Jones and Kurt Elling. Right Now Move, Hunter's first recording for the Rope A Dope label, found him performing all original compositions with an expanded band that included trombone, saxophone, and harmonica. His latest release, Friends Seen and Unseen, finds him back in trio territory. Concise, clean, and without any unnecessary frills, it is one of his finest recordings to date.

Hunter's music is all about groove, but he's able to mine an amazing number of different grooves and doesn't get bogged down in the jamming for jamming's sake school of guitarism. Hunter's trio model is that of the '60s organ trio. Those groups generally allowed the organist to function as bassist, so they were able to add a horn player and still retain the trio format. Hunter goes that one better, playing not only the organ and bass roles but also that of guitarist. Few listeners hearing this recording in a blindfold test would identify it as a trio.

The first two tracks mine somewhat familiar territory, with "One for the Kelpers" finding a cool soul-jazz groove that is reminiscent of the work of Richard "Groove" Holmes or Johnny "Hammond" Smith, with saxophonist John Ellis doing his best Gene Ammons work. "Freedom Tickler" could have come from an early Medeski Martin and Wood album, and while it's a pleasant ride, it provides few surprises. More interesting is the Hunter original "Lulu's Crawl", which allows Ellis to dip into a sonic palette that is reminiscent of the sax work heard on obscure surf tracks by groups like the Revels. At the same time, the bluesy tune also finds Hunter dipping into a rock-influenced guitar sound with lots of satisfying distortion and pedals. It's like a trip to a cheap strip club on acid. Hunter's "Darkly" continues to mine a mysterious vibe, but the reference point this time is a straight-ahead jazz group with flute, again a sound that harks back at least three decades. Hunter and his group are able to reference these earlier sounds without really ever coming across as retro, in large part because Hunter and Ellis both are modern jazz musicians whose solo voices come across as completely their own.

The album's middle track, a rendering of Abdullah Ibrahim's "Soweto's Where It's At", is a revelation. Ibrahim's gentle melody is provided with loads of American gospel and blues subtext by Hunter, who rarely plays in such an unabashedly straightforward blues style. Hunter's solo on this track is stunning, with everything in place and not a wasted note to be heard. Ellis is overdubbed in the final statement of the melody as a complete woodwind section, playing tenor sax, bass clarinet, and flute. It's a marvelously serene performance that will not fail to impress any listener.

On the disc's second half, Hunter provides an effects-laden base for an angular post-modern jazz freakout ("Running in Fear from Imaginary Assailants"), does a less traditional take on the blues ("Eleven Bars for Gandhi"), and explores other jazz-oriented grooves ("Bonus Round" and "My Son the Hurricane"). The final track, "Moore's Alphabet", plays to Hunter's jam-based audience, bringing to a satisfying conclusion a CD on which Hunter has managed to compact every positive element in his style and the trio format he favors into a cohesive, comprehensive whole. For those enamored of groove based jazz or jam music, soul jazz, or modern guitar, Friends Seen and Unseen is likely to be one of the highlights of the year.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image