Charlie Hunter rips. He plays the Eight String Guitar (three bass and five guitar strings) and has been touring non-stop for years. Almost every tour features a new lineup yet Charlie still pounds out grooves sandwiched with virtuous jazz and blues compositions. A long time ago Charlie toured with TJ Kirk dropping T. Monk /JB’s tunes with sick musicians like Will Bernard at his side. Incarnations of Pound for Pound found Willard Dyson and Monte Croft throwing down an amalgamation of Duke’s late year grooves and Lionel Hampton’s vibe-a-rific bounce. However, over the past year Charlie Hunter has found a consistent stable of musicians.
In 2000, he toured with Chris Lovejoy on congas and Stephen Chopek on drums while finding time to jam with others in side projects. During his multiple night new year’s run at SF’s Yoshi’s, Charlie found himself playing with Chopek, Lovejoy and added sax man John Ellis for the run. This unit persevered in 2001 but stops along the way found Charlie participating in Mike Clark's Prescription Renewal and a run of Garage a Trois gigs with freaks (a terms used as a compliment) like Stanton Moore (Galactic), Skerik (Critters Buggin) and Mike Dillon (Critters Buggin, HairyApesBMX). Hunter now finds himself touring again with Ellis, Chopek and Lovejoy.
This past Friday night, June 1, 2001, the 2001 edition of the Charlie Hunter quartet rolled into Cleveland and enthralled about 300 attentive fans at a newly converted Croatian social hall come hipster music venue - the Beachland Ballroom.
Charlie Hunter’s current quartet has an underlying groove element fueled by percussion driven rhythms. I find it rather hard to determine what jazz tunes are played without reference to lyrics. Charlie’s shows are no exceptions. I believe that, generally, without lyrical hooks, the crowd’s attention is often lost especially when it involves jazz compositions. To engage the listener for a sustained period of time must be a true challenge for jazz musicians since listeners must be able to hear the words spelled out by the musical notes. It is always special when a room seems to understand the language of music.
On this cool evening in Cleveland, the crowd immediately started dancing from the first notes of the first set and were hooked without the need for any lyrical signposts. After a lot of crowd boogying and some amazing individual percussion performances from Chopek and Lovejoy, the stage had all four musicians beating percussive instruments. As much as Charlie Hunter is a brilliant guitar player (playing rhythm lines on the bass strings and lead guitar at the same time) he is also an excellent percussionist. The show provided great opportunities for the music to melt away into a drum session which had the audience hopping. A 50 minute first set was followed by an 1 hr 10 minute second set and encore. The crowd was pleased and quite attentive evidenced by very loud crowd reactions to subtle nuances occurring on stage.
John Ellis complimented the grooving music with short bursts of sax and longer thematic phrasing during the more melodic tunes. This may be the most interesting Charlie Hunter lineup since Pound for Pound hiked through the US in 1998. Many people around me appeared to agree that this was the place to be on a Friday night in Cleveland. It was great to see such a mix of heady folks, professionals, and regulars at the Beachland all focusing on the music and exchanging that knowing grin that we all love to get from someone we don’t know that says "this music is great." A look at Charlie Hunter’s career confirms that his music has got to be something great.
Charlie is a young musician with a lot of experience. Deep influences of hip-hop, jazz, latin music, blues and funk are present. He can play as a stripped down duo (e.g. Charlie with Adam Cruz or Leon Parker) or with a larger ensemble (e.g. Mike Clark's Prescription Renewal, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy), or as a guest musician (e.g. Medeski, Martin and Wood, Galactic) and his abilities shine. The Charlie Hunter Quartet’s performance last Friday was moving, exciting and uplifting. So many people in the house appeared satisfied. Trying to put into words this level of enjoyment, my sister approached Charlie after the show to thank him. Her words for him were simple. She told Charlie that his music made her happy. Isn’t that what we are all looking for?
JamBase Cleveland Correspondent
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