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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