Charlie Hunter Quartet - Songs from the Analog Playground


(BLUE NOTE RECORDS - 2001)
$15


CD SAMPLES:
MIGHTY MIGHTY featuring THERYL DE CLOUET
RUN FOR IT
CREOLE featuring MOS DEF
DAY IS DONE
featuring NORAH JONES


Charlie Hunter
- 8-string guitar
John Ellis - saxophone
Stephen Chopek - drums
Chris Lovejoy - percussion

Produced By Charlie Hunter


Charlie Hunter's time and place are here and now. With his unique instrument, an eight-string bass/guitar combination of his own design, Hunter has established himself as one of the most tasteful and innovative bandleaders in music. Now, with Songs from the Analog Playground, Hunter has for the first time brought vocalists and a road-tested instrumental ensemble into the mix. The result is his most cohesive and accessible effort yet.

The four singers who contribute to Songs from the Analog Playground include Theryl de Clouet from New Orleans jazz-funk band Galactic and rapper Mos Def, as well as Hunter's Blue Note labelmates Kurt Elling and Norah Jones. Says Hunter of his decision to bring vocals into the studio, "That's the kind of music I was brought up on. As a street musician that's all you played, because if you played instrumental music you really went broke."

De Clouet was called into the studio with Hunter and his band in New York from a Philadelphia tour stop. His vocals on the buoyant Earth, Wind and Fire cover "Mighty Mighty" are gruff and soulful, adding a potent edge to the Charlie Hunter Quartet's polished sound. He also sings on the slow, spooky rendition of the Willie Dixon-penned standard "Spoonful."

Norah Jones was called in after Hunter heard her demo CD (the same demo CD that resulted in the recent signing of the young singer to Blue Note), and as Hunter says, "She came into the studio and kicked butt." Jones' breathy alto graces two of the more unexpected cover tunes on Songs from the Analog Playground: Roxy Music's "More Than This" and the show-stealing closer, Nick Drake's "Day Is Done."

Hunter intended for Mos Def to lay down some rhymes, and instead the rapper transformed himself into a tender soul singer on "Creole" (for which Hunter wrote the music and Mos Def wrote the lyrics). He also recorded the rap for the album opener, the Latin percussion vamp "Street Sounds."

Kurt Elling, a friend of Hunter's and noted jazz singer, recorded his vocals after the instrumental tracks for the original song "Desert Way" and the standard "Close Your Eyes" were laid down-the only overdubs on the record.

Hunter describes his synthesis of jazz, fusion, funk, blues and rock as simply "rhythm music," and he and his band-saxophonist John Ellis, drummer Stephen Chopek and percussionist Chris Lovejoy-live up to the title from the opening moments of Songs from the Analog Playground. The quartet has been together for over a year, and has played over 200 shows in that time - par for the course for the road-warrior Hunter. On previous albums, the guitarist assembled his groups just before entering the studio; this time, his road-tested band brought a practiced chemistry to the recording process. "Our whole thing just lives and dies by the band's playing together," Hunter says. "Really, the sum is more than its parts."

Hunter, Ellis, Chopek and Lovejoy provide lush backup for the four singers on Songs from the Analog Playground, but they really shine on the album's five instrumental tracks. With ample room to stretch their legs, the quartet has a soothing melodic to balance its rhythmic virtuosity. The nimble syncopation of "Rhythm Music Rides Again" and the spacious groove of "Percussion Shuffle" provide a launching pad for Chopek and Lovejoy to strut their stuff, showing why Hunter praises their ability to work in tandem as a fluid percussion machine. "Run For It" and the enigmatically titled "Mitch Better Have My Bunny" let Hunter and Ellis take the lead with graceful melodic runs and stirring solos. Hunter performs the short-but-sweet "Sunday Morning" by himself, displaying his remarkable ability to play guitar and bass parts simultaneously on his guitar.

Songs from the Analog Playground is the latest high point of Charlie Hunter's career, and the album is a whole new sonic terrain for a musician who just keeps getting better with time. Armed with some of the world's best vocal chords and a veritable freight train of percussion mastery, Hunter is progressing at an alarming rate and bringing a lot of eager listeners along for the ride. "I'm just trying to play music in the post-music era," Hunter says. "Everyone says that this is a bad time for music, and I totally agree, especially as far as popular music goes. But that's great-It just means it's more of a challenge for us to make something happen."