Charlie Hunter Trio: Copperopolis

By Aaron Stein

“Don’t look now, but it’s another better-than-solid album from Charlie Hunter coming your way.”

“Ho hum!” you sigh. “What’s he done now?”

“Well, this one’s called Copperopolis and features a familiar incarnation of what he calls the Charlie Hunter Trio, featuring John Ellis and Derek Phillips.”

“Sounds familiar. Is it more of the same?”

If by ‘more of the same’ you mean more of the dependably terrific fare that Charlie’s been pouring out year-after-year for well over a decade, then yeah, it is the same old Charlie Hunter and his 8-string guitar. Of course, there are things that make it unique, new, different, worthwhile. Don’t think Hunter would put his name on it if it didn’t push a little bit. To me, perhaps the most interesting thing about it is the fact that it was recorded in New Orleans in May of last year, one of the last few months of the New Orleans of years past. Listened to through that lens, it’s easy to imagine the album almost as homage to the unofficial musical home base of Charlie and his ilk.

“Cueball Bobbin’” opens sweet and slinky and reveals a swampy, dirty guitar from Hunter that we’re not quite used to. The fingerwork is there, but now it’s accompanied by a distorted rock-and-roll effect that’s new and invigorating. It’s the music of a moment – 2 am, Saturday night, second weekend, Jazzfest. Other moments, like the 6 minutes of the title track, are more somber, revealing a more true-jazz elegance, the safe comfort of home. “Swamba Redux” has Phillips swinging on his kit, Hunter lying low, and an exotic melody on what sounds like a hooter from Ellis.

Ellis is the second wild card of Copperopolis, splitting time between his expected saxophones (including a tasty spat of soprano) and a wide range of keyboards. As I listened to the CD, I realized that the sound of keys is an unfamiliar one on a Charlie Hunter album. Sometimes it’s the small things that make a difference, and Ellis’s playing is as much a central voice as Hunter’s throughout, from that hooter to organs to a funky electric piano.

I recall my first experience listening to Charlie Hunter and what was called the “Charlie Hunter Trio” many years ago. There have been many different combinations and permutations of musicians on a whole host of Hunter albums since then, but the constant has been Charlie - his talents, his compositional voice, and always a little something different. Pick this one up now. It’ll help pass the time until the next one comes along.

JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 2/16/06]

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ambrosiajam starstarstarstar Sat 2/25/2006 03:18PM
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Charlie Hunter is the best guitarist displayed on jambase by far, and he should have streaming video files available everywhere. Charlie Hunter needs to be exposed to many more people. His talent is impressing as well as incredible. Makes Keller look like a high schooler

makeithappen77 starstarstarstar Tue 2/28/2006 10:43AM
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I found myself lucky enough to mix and tour manage Charlie for over a year. I must say, in that time I *never* saw him play anything less than a stellar show. When you find yourself in a position to witness the entire live output of an artist, day in and day out for that length of time, chances are, no matter how much you like or respect them, you might get bored. Not so with Mr. Hunter. The inventiveness of his band (John Ellis & Derek Phillips), the sheer talent born from their fingers and a willingness to make thing up, night in and night out, always kept their shows fresh, and provided a sense of boundry pushing that I find sadly lacking in much of the output of other bands. He's a genius, f*cking hilarious, and a pleasure to work for and to see. The Charlie Hunter Trio, now with 50% more RAWK.

gifthorse76 starstarstarstar Wed 3/1/2006 08:27PM
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Charlie Hunter is the shiznet fo sho. I first saw him with his old quartet that included the late alto man Carlder Spanier during the Shango era and seen several of his bands since. I can’t wait to check out the new one I know I won’t be disappointed. A cool fact is that Les Claypool produced Charlie’s first Trio album.

thedude2004 starstarstarstar Fri 3/3/2006 09:00AM
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I saw Charlie last weekend in Portland, Maine with the 'new' trio. Incredible, amazing, ridiculousness. I've seen Charlie twice before and every time has been a new experience, partly because of who he was playing with but every time has been a fantastic night of talented, spirited tunes. Definitely do not pass on seeing Charlie in any musical setting.

Charlie2Toke starstarstarstarstar Sat 3/4/2006 02:40PM
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i had the good fortune of seeing garage-a-trois play the culture room in fort lauderdale a few months ago and charlie hunter is simply amazing. what a talented, gifted person. and it's plain to see that he reallys DIGS what he's doing...if he comes within 100 miles of miami, i'm there. big up, charlie. keep doing your thing, brother! (pick up a copy of 'natty dread' if you haven't already. it's one BAAAD album....)

akewslap Mon 4/17/2006 11:53AM
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True Charlie Hunter is a great guitar player, but this new album wasn't that great. Honestly my favourite album is Duo, it showcases what he does best: bass and rhythm and lead all at once. This showcases a lot of noise, and little to no groove, its more about production than content. The shows will still be amazing so go see him if you can, its a lot different when you get to see him play, and watch his hands move.