Words by Shain Shapiro :: Images by Robert Chapman
Charlie Hunter Trio :: 02.22 :: El Mocambo :: Toronto, ON
I closed my eyes, fixated my mind on nothing in particular, and just took in the music, intently and quietly reverting to an introspective state in which everything else in the venue, from fellow audience members to a mysterious puddle towards the back of the venue, did not matter at all. I was alone, completely on my own, pondering nothing in particular while melodies and trenchant passing rhythms reverberated above. Time did not stop, but its importance withered away for the moment. My mind was much more concerned with random internal quandaries, like actualizing who had to have lost their life upon discovering the edible inside of a coconut. Must have been a free-flowing, Caribbean-infused melody directing that mind traffic, I thought to myself.
My eyes remained closed while swaths of gritty, funkified guitar lines took notice, dissolving my tropical thought process with heavy hitting bass lines. Fiercely demanding, each stringed jab became more visual, encouraging me to open my eyes. Finally, I gave in, and reality imploded. All that music, guitar, bass, rhythm, and harmony was being made by one person, simultaneously, while wielding off a solo. Attentive, discordant acid-jazz, soothing, Cuban-laced swing, dark, brooding funk, all together, all at once. Impossible? No, but damn difficult to pull off.
Herein exemplifies the beauty of Charlie Hunter and the band that has served as his fantastic trio for the past four years, featuring John Ellis on a bevy of melodic instruments and Derrek Phillips on drums and percussion. Adding a bit of extra emphasis, this would be the last time this trio would grace Toronto as both Ellis and Phillips have begun to pursue their own musical projects. Throughout his two-set showcase as part of the 20th anniversary of the Toronto Jazz Series, I was caught in a mental meld, wondering how the talents of one musician can sound like three and how a trio together pulls off sounding like six. This was continuously intense, intrepid music that made me think deeply concentrated thoughts, even though they were about nothing in particular. I kept opening my eyes and wondering where the bass was, or how someone could simulate both drums and a percussion line while syncopating with a tambourine. While contemporary jazz primarily constructed the musical framework throughout the evening, doses of alternative rock, of all things, Appalachian swing, and Northern funk shared in the spotlight, even if the stylistic stew on paper reads like equal parts oil and water. Sure, the man has covered Nirvana well in his past, and while "Come as You Are" was not experimented with, equally loud, distorted alternative rock made an appearance, more than once I might add, via jazz instrumentation. That is why I kept my eyes closed. What one sense often refused to believe, others absolutely lapped up. Jazz, rock, alternative, swing, funk, whatever - if Charlie experimented with it, it was resoundingly successful at the El Mocambo.
Two hours into the set, my mind and my feet were exhausted after standing and/or dancing all night. Yet, my eyes were noticeably refreshed, because throughout the bulk of the show, I chose to keep them closed. Despite wanting to revel in the virtuosic finger-picking that Hunter exemplifies, my mind was too concerned with interpreting each melody to the fullest extent, whether it reminded me of guitar shredding in seventh grade or the mysteriousness of coconuts. And if my mind was so exhausted after drenching it in two hours of Charlie Hunter and his craft, I wonder how exacerbated Charlie's mind is.
JamBase | Toronto
Go See Live Music!