The night after Halloween turned out to be the real treat for all us lucky heads at the Charlie Hunter/Robert Walter show at the intimate Somerville Theatre. The night started out great, my buddy and I actually got to the show on time. We managed to snag some front row seats and sat down just as the show started. It's always a special treat to see a show at the Somerville Theater and tonight was no different.

Robert Walter and the 20th Congress opened up the show and got things started right. Robert was on as always, he is an incredible musician. Watching him play the keys you can see that he pours his soul into the music. With an ever-revolving cast of players backing him, he always manages to have that vintage Robert Walter sound - tight grooves with a touch of funk added in. It is a pleasure to watch Robert play his instrument. It is easy to see why he is one of the most sought after players in the jazz and jamband word. I particularly enjoyed his saxophonist, whose name was Cheme I believe. He was using some sort of MIDI special effects box and changing the sound of his sax. One of the jams really heated up when Cheme distorted his sax to sound like a guitar, complete with the wah-wah pedal. John Ellis came out for a song to accompany Cheme as they worked the funk out. They ended their set with a song that had a certain gospel feel to it and made me want to jump out of my chair and yell "Hallelujah!" Robert teased a little "Lovelight" and then the jam was over.

After the crowd converged on the stage we decided to move up to the balcony, and we ended up with a great view of everyone on stage. The Somerville Theater proved once again to be an absolutely great venue, because even from up on the balcony you're really only about 50 feet away or so. Charlie Hunter and his quartet stepped on stage and from the first note they were smokin'. I've seen him and various reincarnations of his band a bunch of times in NYC, but it's obvious after tonight that when he comes to Boston he don't mess around! My first Boston Charlie Hunter show turned out to be the best, by far.

When describing this show I think the words "cookin'" and sizzlin'" work the best. Every player seemed to be on tonight and everything just clicked. This band is hot!!! Steven Chopek on drum kit and Chris Lovejoy on percussion are quite a rhythm section. They communicate with each other extremely well on stage. All they have to do is look at each other and nod. John Ellis's sax proved smooth as he paced himself and took carefully placed solos. His work on the sax seemed very mature for a man of his age. It's clear that he has studied the greats and managed to turn their styles into one all his own. He knew exactly the right time to chime in on the sax and when not to.

Charlie Hunter is all about percussion, so it wasn't strange to see John drop his sax quite often and trade it for a bell or other fun percussion toy. Charlie himself was dropping all kinds of sick solos. The other times I've seen him he has been more reserved, more chill. Tonight he was there to rock, even bantering and joking with the crowd, making some comment about Jim Rice that had the crowd laughing hard. After some of his solos you would possibly think to yourself "man how does he do that, it's incredible!" Then you realize that he was simultaneously playing the bass at the same time and it blows your mind. There were a lot of older jazz heads in the crowd, and it's obvious that Charlie is a very respected jazz musician. After a few songs and a Charlie scat solo, Charlie invited singer Jans Engber of the Colorado band The Motet up on stage. I'd never seen Charlie Hunter play with a vocalist so I was excited to see what this guy could do. As soon as he started singing you could see that Stevie Wonder was a huge influence. In fact maybe even a little too much of an influence. I believe that it is very important for a singer to develop his own style and not imitate someone so closely. Even so, I have to admit this guy had a good voice and worked well with the rest of the band. They played a few tunes, and then went into a Latin tinged tune, which was killer. Charlie provided backup harmonizing and seemed to have a really good voice himself. In fact the whole night seemed to have a sort of Afro-Pop feeling to it, especially with the use of percussion. Then the song ended and Charlie said goodnight and thank-you, and then they came back out for a sick encore with Robert Walter and the rest of his band.

At the end of the jam everyone on stage was playing some kind of percussion instrument and they actually marched out into the crowd, did a big circle and came back up and said goodnight once again.

I think Charlie needs to keep up with this quartet, because they really are special. They work so well on stage together and just have a natural feel like they have been playing together for twenty years. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and would definitely recommend to anyone that hasn't had a chance to catch either Charlie or Robert to get out to this show while you still can.

Sam Katz
JamBase | Beantown
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[Published on: 11/2/01]

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