Concert DVDs seem to fall into one of two categories: big budget productions with an endless array of camera angles to capture a grand event, or small-scale tapings that utilize inexpensive digital technology to document an intimate performance. Charlie Hunter's Right Now Live! falls into the latter category, though the small scale of the production is not indicative of the grand music it documents.
In the winter of 2000, Ropeadope records rented a North Philly warehouse and invited guests to attend a DVD recording of a Charlie Hunter gig. The result is somewhat reminiscent of life imitating art, as the DVD doesn't feel like a regular concert. Aside from a slight presence in the rear speakers during the 5.1 Dolby Surround mix, the audience is rarely apparent and never visible. The band onstage doesn't make for much of a visual experience, as they spend a lot of time staring into sheet music. Then again, this is a Charlie Hunter show, so you can't expect screaming crowds, laser shows, and giant inflatable pigs.
What the production lacks in visuals is more than made up for in the form of swinging grooves and deft soloing. Although the context of this musical outing may have been somewhat contrived, the music still retains spontaneity and drive. The distinctive lineup of musicians certainly helps, none more so than the unique chromatic harmonica of Gregoire Maret. With clean precision and an easy flair, Maret drifts above the notes, slinking in and around drummer Derek Philips' light and groovy samba beats. Steady horn work is delivered by the likes of laid-back trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and the multi-talented John Ellis, who adds plenty of punch on both tenor saxophone and bass clarinet.
Oh yeah, there's also Charlie Hunter. While watching this often visually uninspiring but sonically pleasing DVD, one can't help but wonder why Ropeadope didn't choose to forgo the visuals and release this session as a live CD. Ah, but that would be forgetting the special "angle" function of the disc, which allows the viewer to select a camera angle that never strays from Hunter's mind-bending finger gymnastics as he moves all over his custom eight-string guitar. If you've ever wondered how Charlie Hunter can play bass lines and guitar lines simultaneously (while raging on both), these close-up on his fingerwork give the viewer the slightest of clues.
Hunter is oh so much more than a technical wizard; he is an impassioned musician and a rare soul who has been born with the gift of being able to do two different things at the same time. And he does them insanely well. In both solo stints and with the backing band, he controls the ebb and flow with a dynamic interplay between a thumb and four fingers. Getting a front row seat to watch this inspired genius at work makes this release a worthy production after all.
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