Charlie Hunter / Leon Parker - Duo


(BLUE NOTE RECORDS - 1999)
$15


CD SAMPLES:
MEAN STREAK
DO THAT THEN
THE SPIN SEEKERS


Charlie Hunter
- 8-string guitar
Leon Parker - drums, percussion

Produced by Charlie Hunter & Joe Ferla



Recorded at Bear Trax Recording Studio in upstate New York, December 1998

This album was recorded live with the exception of the percussion overdubs on "Mean Streak"

 


The true mark of an artist is his willingness to creatively surge into new territory. Throughout his career, Charlie Hunter has avoided pitfalls of predictability by bringing new ideas to the table and seeking out new cohorts to collaborate with. The eight-string guitarist-bandleader recorded his first Blue Note album, Bing, Bing, Bing! with a tenor saxophone-drum trio, then added an alto saxophone to the mix for his next two recordings, Ready, Set...Shango! and the Bob Marley cover project Natty Dread. He threw a curveball last year with Return of the Candyman when he retired the horn section and enlisted vibes player Stefon Harris and percussionist John Santos to join him and longtime drummer Scott Amendola in a new quartet called Pound for Pound. For his latest outing, Hunter once again pulls off a remarkable change of pace by linking up with extraordinary drummer Leon parker for Duo, a superb collection of ten tunes that run the jazzy gamut from bluesy shuffles and deep-grooved funk to hushed balladry and straight ahead romanticism.

"I was excited by the prospect of working in a Duo setting," says Hunter, who co-produced Duo with engineer Joe Ferla. "It's scary and challenging at the same time. Its like flying a helicopter. You have to be on at every moment. Every limb is doing something. There's no rest and no time to recoup your energy. After one hour you're totally expended." He pauses, then notes how important it is to take fresh directions. "Life is too short to beat dead horses. When a certain project has spiritually and musically lived out its life, then it's time to put it to bed. On the other hand, if the music is still exciting and vital, I'll make as many records as it takes for it to run its course."

While Hunter played a number of duo dates over the years with his San Francisco Bay rhythm mate Amendola, when the guitarist moved to Brooklyn in late 1997, he set out to find a simpatico drummer to jam with. What better place to start than Leon Parker, who kept the beat steady in pianist Jacky Terrasson's trio as well as released a couple excellent discs for Colombia as a leader. "I was a big fan of Leon's music," says Hunter. "I thought he'd be the perfect person to work with on a Duo album." Ferla, who had done studio work with Parker before, concurred.

But it was a chance encounter in Brooklyn that led to the recording sessions. Hunter recalls, "I ran into Leon on a street one day. We talked for quite a while about music in general and then what I had in mind. He wasn't very familiar with my albums, which was a good thing because we developed a style of playing together that wasn't built on preconceived notions." The results? "Oh, man, Leon is a genius. Hooking up with him made my playing so much better. He's so honest in his drumming and he brings 150 percent to the music. His timing is perfect, and he has great taste. He plays all the right things. It was an inspiration to play with him."

Another stimulant that has spurred on Hunter's music is his new stomping ground. "Just meeting and then getting tt play with someone like Leon is why I came here," he says. "I'm being constantly inspired by people, which sets off a chain of events for more exploration. It's been one constant chain reaction since I moved here." Duo, the first disc Hunter recorded in New York, affirms that he feels right at home in the jazz mecca.

The CD opens with the ebullient Mean Streak, an older number written during a time when Hunter was immersed in Cuban music. Over the years he played the tune in concert with his different groups, but it took on a new life when he and Parker rehearsed it. It's the only tune of the pack with overdubs, with Parker adding extra percussion and a snare drum solo. That track is followed by the deeply swinging "Belief", a Parker tune from his album of the same title. " I like Leon's writing,: says Hunter, who adds, "This is one of my favorites."

"Do That Then", written by the Bay Area-based Scott Jensen, opens on a quiet note then develops into a pensive groove. Originally Hunter and Parker were trying to push the number into an uptempo funk realm, but the results were unsatisfying. "After attempting several takes, it just didn't work," says Hunter, whose eight-string wizardry frees him to play lead as well as lay down the bass line. "We were going to forget it and move on, but then we decided to take it slow. We hit it on the first take."

Hunter renders the jazz standard "You Don't Know What Love Is" "super straight," making romance by sticking close to the melody line. He comments, "I love amp vibrato, which gives this tune an old guitar sound." After the ballad, the duo bursts out for Recess, a romp that switches gears rhythmically into the shuffle zone and features Hunter howling in glee in the background. "That's inspired by gospel music. I'd been listening to a lot of music by the Soulstirrers, Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples with Lucky Peterson on organ. Leon and I were having so much fun on the groove that I decided I didn't need to solo. That's why the tune is so short." As for those wails, Hunter jokes, "I just had the feeling, what can I say?"

The duo cools the tempo back down on the next track, a hushed rendition of Brian Wilson's "Don't Talk" from the Beach Boys' classic album Pet Sounds. "We wanted to create a mood. So as not to detract from the beauty of the tune, we decided it didn't need improvisation." This is followed by the blues-drenched beboppish number "The Last Time" (with Parker on congas and caxixi, a Brazilian shaker), the furtive "Dark Corner" (the first tune the pair recorded in the three-day sessions) and the cooking "The Spin Seekers". The album closes with a soca vibe on "Calypso for Grandpa", a little ditty dedicated to Hunter's 87-year-old grandfather who "can still swing a mean baseball bat."

As if Hunter hasn't taken enough adventures on Duo, the guitarist has also been involved in a couple of extracurricular projects. He recorded an album with Galactic's Stanton Moore (a trio date also featuring saxophonist Skerik) and appears on a couple tracks of R&B pop star D'Angelo's album. Plus, he's preparing to go into the studio with drummer Mike Clark on his new project, which also stars saxophonist Kenny Garrett.

What's up next? No telling at the moment, but whatever new path he takes, one thing is certain: Hunter is going to be tuned in creatively. "I know I'm never going to sell a million records," he says. "But even if I could I know that when music starts being dominated by commerce, it's on the road to ruin. Good music is made with good intentions. I owe it to my audience which is very diverse and very smart and expects me to throw curve balls."