Charlie Hunter Quartet - Natty Dread



Charlie Hunter
- 8-string guitar
Calder Spanier - alto saxophone
Kenny Brooks - tenor saxophone
Scott Amendola - drums

Produced by Lee Townsend

Recorded at Mobius Music, San Francisco, CA
Mixed at Different Fur Recording, San Francisco, CA


Blue Note Records approached Charlie Hunter to cover an entire classic album of the past by a legendary artist as part of their new Cover Series project. The choice on what album to be covered was left up to Charlie and his Quartet to decide. Having a broad range of musical influences did not make the decision easy for Charlie. After pondering the idea of doing Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" and the Beach Boys' "Smiley Smile", he settled on Bob Marley's Natty Dread.

"For starters, Bob Marley is one of the greatest songwriters of all time," Hunter explains. "His music stands on its own like a Beatles song. You strum one of his tunes on an acoustic guitar and people instantly recognize it. He ranks up there as a song composer with Stevie Wonder and Elvis Costello. Plus, the numbers on Natty Dread have such strong melodies and harmonies. The clincher was that each tune presented itself in such a way that allowed the band the freedom to do something original with it."

Band members Scott Amendola, Calder Spanier, Kenny Brooks and Hunter met and all contributed ideas into turning the reggae tunes into jazz arrangements. After breaking out a tune or two from Natty Dread on the road, they settled into a run of weekly shows at their familiar confine, the Elbo Room in the San Francisco SOMA district where on a couple of occassions, the whole album was performed in its entirety, in sequence, to the delight and amazement of the fans.

After these well-received shows, they spent three days in the studio with producer Lee Townsend (Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Will Bernard) for the recording of the album. "It was a challenge to take Bob Marley's music and do justice to it. But we're pleased with what we came up with," Hunter says. We recorded most of the tunes on first or second takes so it feels like a live album. We had fun doing the project. It all came together serendipitously. The round pegs fit in the round holes and the square ones fit in the square holes. It was really that easy."

Lively Up Yourself - "It seemed obvious right from the start that this tune had to be done as a shuffle. We didn't even discuss the arrangement as a group. We just played it and it fell right into place."

No Woman, No Cry - "I got some ideas by messing around with 'The Tennessee Waltz'. I was also working with concepts on stating melodies I picked up from listening to Ry Cooder and Roebuck 'Pops' Staples. It's not easy to hear, but there's also a Bill Frisell feel. What's really interesting is the accordian sound Calder and Kenny create with the intervals they're playing on their altos. We come off sounding like Flaco Jimenez jamming with Ry."

Them Belly Full - "This builds in intensity with Latin-inflected rhythms. That was an easy one."

Rebel Music - "That was the hardest arrangement to figure out. We finally decided to do it slow and straight. I used my guitar to get that organ sound by running it through a Leslie speaker. I wanted to make the tune sound like John Patton was playing it."

So Jah Seh - Hunter gives the credit to Scott Amendola for coming up with the idea to play this tune as an Afro-pop sensibility. Calder worked on the initial arrangement which was modified by the band during their live dates.

Natty Dread - This piece was arranged with a Carribean flare to it.

Bend Down Low - Charlie calls their arrangement of "Bend Down Low" a gospel speed-metal version. He also notes that the horns play the heads of five other Marley tunes. "You have to listen carefully for those cameos. Theyre pretty well disguised. It's like Calder and Kenny are doing backward masking vocals."

Talkin' Blues - "It's pretty basic. It's the Marley tune with the groove inspired by the [Eddie] Harris number ['Mean Greens']."

Revolution - Kenny Brooks arranged the closer as a slow melodic number.