Charlie Hunter Quintet: Right Now Live [DVD]

Zeth Lundy

Charlie Hunter Quintet

Right Now Live [DVD]

Label: Ropeadope
US Release Date: 2004-07-13
UK Release Date: 2004-07-12

A DVD release from the Berkeley, CA-based guitarist Charlie Hunter is not only long-overdue, it's quite essential: Hunter is one of those performers you must see to believe. Hunter is a jazz player for the new century, a master of his custom-made eight-string electric guitar which allows him to simultaneously play bass, rhythm, and lead. He's easily impressive on record, where his effortless ability to perform three parts at once is just as compelling as the soul he throws behind it. Watching him is where all logic is gleefully defied. Right Now Live (which documents a private party held by Ropeadope Records in a Philadelphia warehouse, exclusively for the DVD taping) offers what Hunter's records don't: front-row visualization of a left hand subconsciously working itself into a frenzy, teeth gritted in everlasting intensity, a shamanic telepathy between mind and instrument.

Hunter is what the kids call "sick": if you're a guitarist, he's the guy who makes you want to hang it all up. You love him and hate him for it. He cut his teeth playing reggae and blues bars while still in high school, equally inspired by Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix. He spent time in Michael Franti's politically charged the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and the iconoclastic TJ Kirk, a quartet that fused the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. But despite his eclectic resume, Hunter's more expressive work comes from his own funky jazz combos. Whether he's covering Charles Mingus or Nirvana, Hunter consistently breathes new textures into the source material, twisting genres with a traditionalist's bent.

Right Now Live is split into two halves, with the first four songs showcasing Hunter solo. On these selections, Hunter's able to stretch out and explore his command of the eight-string guitar, with inspired results. "Recess" steadies a delicious bass groove to buoy Hunter's jaw-dropping nimble improvisation (run through his trademark Hammond B-3 organ effect). Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free" is rendered in Hendrix-y fret waves and scribbles before quickly turning into a Leo Kottke-inspired vamp. Hunter's phrasing is like a pianist's in "Stars Fell on Alabama" and he transforms the dizzying melodic descents of Stevie Wonder's "Too High" into a sheer blizzard of activity.

The second half of the DVD highlights Hunter's quintet in action: frequent collaborators John Ellis and Derek Phillips, on tenor sax and drums respectively, Gregoire Maret on chromatic harmonica, and Curtis Fowlkes (of John Lurie's Lounge Lizards and the Jazz Passengers fame) on trombone. The quintet's rhythms and heads are listener-friendly (Phillips often plays more rock-oriented beats than jazz) and the players save their challenging hard bop connotations for extended improvisations. One of the best tracks is "Mali", which announces itself in big blocked chords, transmuting into a soaring melody of movement with shades from all players. Maret's chromatic harmonica provides an intriguing texture; while it's not an instrument you often hear in this setting, it surprisingly holds its own next to the sax and trombone.

The entire quintet performance is crammed with nuggets of spice: Phillips subverting the rhythm on top of Hunter's unwavering bass in "Mestre Tata"; Fowlkes' supremely melodic solo deep in the Cuban-infected "Changui"; the charged wrestling bout between Ellis and Hunter embedded in "Try". The band is constantly communicating, adding counter-melodies and harmonic support to each other's moments in the spotlight. This sense of ecstatic involvement is the key to Right Now Live's success, as it translates so easily from the screen to the viewer.

The DVD looks and sounds fantastic; no less than nine cameras captured the action, and the audio is mixed in pristine 5.1 surround. It's a bit weak in the extras department, which consists only of band member bios and publicity photos, but that's a small gripe since the main attraction is the performance itself. For fans of Charlie Hunter (both those who have and haven't had the privilege to catch him live), Right Now Live is nothing short of an essential visual document of a performer in his prime. It may not provide insight into exactly how he plays that eight-string guitar (a spellbinding mystery for the ages), but it fully submerges you into Hunter's fermenting, topsy-turvy world.





'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.