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,
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
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.
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
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."
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
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
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."