Like a kid in a candy store, Charlie
Hunter's eyes are wide open in New York City where he has found a plethora
of musical talent to work with, learn from and evolve with in his musical journey.
After six years of living in the city, the styles and sounds he's discovered have
recently prompted him to expand his usual trio or quartet lineup into a quintet
to make space for the deeper talent pool. For the first time, he's included
a harmonica on an album and it really works.
Right Now Move is Charlie's ninth album and his first with ropeadope
records (home to DJ Logic and John Medeski's side projects). It was recorded
in three days. The quintet had been playing gigs throughout the summer of 2002
and decided to capture its sound while it was still fresh. The benefit of
this approach is that the album has the spark of a live show, but with the beautiful
tone of a jazz production courtesy of ropedope's Scott Harding.
In a recent phone interview with JamBase, Charlie provided some additional
insights into this album as well as his upcoming tour and even family life.
JamBase: On Songs from the Analog Playground, you arranged vocals
over your quartet. Were you tempted to do any singing yourself on this album?
CH: The lyrics I'd probably sing would be so dirty and filthy that I don't
think I'd get anywhere with it. I'd have it do it under an assumed name [laughing].
The people who knew me would be taken aback.
JamBase: What was behind the track "20th Congress" on the new
CH: That's an ode to Robert Walter's
band. I've played with him a bunch and Robert's just an excellent funky musician. It's great that
Will Bernard [who played with Hunter
in T.J. Kirk] is touring with them now.
JamBase: Do you get a chance to listen to other jazz-influenced guitarists
that are gaining recognition on the jam scene, like Fareed
CH: Yeah, I know Fareed pretty well from back when we were on Blue
Note together. I don't get to catch other musician's live shows that much.
If I'm not playing then I'm home with my family.
JamBase: How's fatherhood treating you?
CH: We have a three-month old girl and a two-year-old boy now. It's the first three
months of parenthood that no one really told you about [laughter]. I'm looking
forward to when the older one can take care of the younger one.
JamBase: You're starting a tour shortly. You'll be in Denver in April with
Yonder Mountain String Band and then with
String Cheese Incident on the East Coast;
both are bluegrass-oriented bands.
CH: I think exposure to different styles of music is a good thing.
JamBase: How would you describe the tour?
CH: We're not taking any days off. We'll be touring primarily as a trio of myself,
John Ellis (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet) and Derrek Phillips
(drums) so we're looking forward to building a repertoire of material as a trio.
By M. Weintrob
JamBase: You've been known for your preference to keep your music organic.
Yet you've collaborated with DJ Logic
who's more of an electronic musician. How did you like the outcome?
CH: I've played with Logic quite a bit. It depends upon the person. Logic is
very organic in his style. Another guy I've played with is DJ Olive who's really
organic as well; he makes musical choices. It comes down to the quality of the
musicians you play with, regardless of the instrument - that's what it's all
JamBase: On Right Now Move, and in previous albums, one hears different
styles and cultures of music. Do you strive for this?
CH: I do try to make a variety of sounds in my records, but with a basic theme
in every record. The theme of this album is the group, the different instrumentation,
trombone, tenor sax, bass clarinet, harmonica.
JamBase: Did these musicians contribute in writing these songs?
CH: I pretty much wrote everything except the interludes; those were just improvisational
input from each member.
JamBase: What's next for you?
CH: I'm just going to keep going on this trajectory; constantly trying to develop,
evolve, and improve. That's not going to stop unless I stop playing music. I'll
just check out more music, keep developing different facets of my playing.
JamBase: I've read that you represent the jazz of this generation; do you
have a goal for spreading knowledge about jazz?
CH: I never said I wanted to do that. I just want to take all the music I've
listened to and present it in an honest way for myself and hopefully that translates
to other people in this generation.
Right Now Move does represent a new direction from previous Charlie
Hunter albums. Other than the return of John Ellis from the previous
album, the quintet lineup is all-new and includes the complimentary chromatic
harmonica sounds of Gregoire Maret. Hunter selected this band for the musicians'unique sound contributions. They hail from both the East Bay (Northern California)
as well as New York, but it's clear on several tracks that Hunter has embraced
the sounds of Nuyorikan Latin-influenced players such as Eddie Palmieri, Jerry
Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. Hunter acknowledges the "wealth of
musical knowledge here in New York. That's not really available in California.
It's one of the reasons why I moved out here."
Another facet of this recording is that Hunter again demonstrates his complete
comfort in letting his band mates share the stage. He does not lay down long
guitar solos. Not because he could not deliver them but because the music he
has in his head is poly-rhythmic, and he prefers that other great musicians
realize it with him. Charlie has produced some solo work. It's hard to find,
but he released a solo album called 8-string Guitar in 2000.
Charlie seems content being a bass guitarist first and a lead guitarist second.
He prefers to paint the background rhythms for his band's textures. When I listen
to his recordings, I close my eyes and follow the guitar and bass lines and
just smile incredulously that one person is creating these voices in a single
take. It's what makes a Charlie Hunter show so impressive and his recordings
sound fuller than their lineup implies. One of my favorites of the album, "Whoopass,"
is a perfect example. It's a funky composition that lets the harmonica and horns
dance upon the bass lines.
"Try" is a horn-heavy funk vehicle that, according to Charlie, is
an ode to Fred Wesley. Another song, "Oakland," is a moderately-paced,
bouncy ditty that is beautiful in its simplicity. You can hear the band scatting
along with the beat and Maret's harmonica playing is appropriately soulful.
This track belongs on someone's summer mix tape.
Maret's harmonica finds its way onto most of the tracks of this album. "Mali,"
which refers to composer and vocalist Neba Solothe's African origin, showcases Maret's harmonica playing, and it's a beautiful piece.
"Wade in the Water," an interpretation of an old gospel tune, casts
John Ellis on the bass clarinet while Charlie delivers one of his few solos
on this album. "Le Bateau Ivre" is the final track of the album and,
as Charlie puts it, is "a goofy little tune that bobs along." This
might be his best performance on the record. He takes center stage and delivers
sublime guitar and bass lines that left me wanting to hear more.
Given the personnel rotation that has occurred historically throughout Hunter's
recordings, it is likely that the quintet will transform further with different
lineups in future tours and recordings. As he continues his search for musical
satisfaction and communion, it will be quite interesting to hear where Charlie
moves next. He will be touring at least through July with various incarnations
of his band across the country, including an East Coast tour in June with Garage
a Trois (featuring Skerik, Stanton Moore and Mike Dillon).
Interview by Haig Assadourian
JamBase | Colorado
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