Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Good Groove Hunting

By Brendan Doherty

MAY 18, 1998: 

Charlie Hunter & Pound for Pound

When Charlie Hunter searches for new sounds, it's not terribly difficult. Hunter uses a guitar with two extra strings--eight strings total. Unlike Stanley Jordan's ultra weird, unhip musical onanism, a two handed playing style that removed the need for other band members, Hunter takes on just two: bass and guitar. More than some ultra-talented technician trying to downsize the number of guys he would have to pay on a given night, Hunter is a legitimate musical force with the right kind of fire to revive his chosen field of jazz.

"I try to fill up the sounds," Hunter says from his new home in Brooklyn. "I get a lot of flack about it--why don't you play guitar or bass. I'm like, you know how many people play those? It's just like having a bass and a guitar, and as far as it being a gimmick, everything is a gimmick and being a human is a gimmick."

The jazzy artist with a soft spot for uptempo funk beat and go-go is one of the young lions of jazz, a new breed of jazz guys (under 35, and often the sons of premier hard bop players from the late '60s). Hunter attended the same Berkeley high school whose music program produced saxophonist Joshua Redman and pianist Benny Green, but Hunter wasn't a part of the program.

"I didn't go to class much, and I was from a low-income family and was tracked into the lowest level of academic courses," Hunter says. Shortly after that, someone tried to turn him on to Weather Report, Wes Montgomery and finally Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian and John Coltrane. "I was into everything at that point--blues, rockabilly, soul, but boom! After that, I was instantly turned on. Their total sound and the reality of their playing just cut through everything. I suddenly wanted to play like that."

Hunter took lessons from the then-infamous Bay Area teacher, Joe Satriani, like a lot of other kids. With regular gigs in the Bay Area, Hunter sharpened his acumen. He did a short stint playing for the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. By the middle '90s, he had formed his Berkeley-based trio and was recording with them. They filled several Blue Note releases, Bing, Bing, Bing! and Ready ... Set ... Shango with Hunter's 8-string, sax and drums. They're different, all right. They even covered a Kurt Cobain song on their first Blue Note record.

"I think our music is an alternative to the suit-and-tie club that says you have to be well-to-do and super-intellectual to understand jazz music," Hunter says. "We don't have that attitude. We play at places where people aren't interested in pigeonholing instrumental music. I wanted to jump in a van and cover the U.S. I don't think a lot of jazz guys are willing to do that. You have to be willing to lose a lot of money."

For his latest tour, he's bringing Willard Dyson on drums and Monty Croft on vibes. His most recent record for Blue Note, The Return of the Candyman, reads with shorter songs, hip-hop structure and ebullient, melodic guitar work. He's left the Trio behind and opened up a whole world of musical possibilities.

"With each record, I set out a concept and hope to execute it as (best) I can," Hunter says. "I'm pretty happy with this. When you have the horns up front, you have the big singing sound and the ability to connect, but you lose some of the ability to have some subtle things going on. Every line-up has its strengths and weaknesses. The trio had been playing together for a long time. We made a lot of music, but there always comes a time to move on."

In doing so, he brought the cheesy Steve Miller tune "Fly Like an Eagle" a deeper partner--John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." It's a prime example of how Hunter is seeking out, bagging and field-dressing musical riffs, and doing things in an entirely new way. Because of this quality, his wild and diverse musical past, and his potential to have rock kids crossing over into the jazz audience, Hunter has been called by some hyperbolic pundits as the future of jazz.

"You wanna know who the future of jazz is?" Hunter asks. "Everyone is. I am no more than everyone else. I'm just traveling down that same road that other musicians are, trying to evolve and get better at what I do. I don't think most of what I do is revolutionary at all."

Charlie Hunter and Pound for Pound perform Tuesday, May 19 at the Launchpad with Galactic.

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