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 Friday, 24 October 2014
Charlie Hunter at the Dakota, November 5th PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor and Ronaldo Oregano   
Sunday, 04 November 2012

“He can convincingly simulate the sound of two or three musicians playing together” – Jazz Times

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Charlie Hunter (by David Turcotte)

A guitarist who has defied classification while pulling in audiences of diverse age and musical tastes, Charlie Hunter has been long known for having one of the hottest grooves in jazz guitar. First coming to prominence in the early '90s, Hunter is best known for playing custom-made seven and eight-string guitars on which he simultaneously plays basslines, rhythm guitar, and solos. Critic Sean Westergaard describes Hunter's innovative guitar technique as "mind-boggling ... he's an agile improviser with an ear for great tone, and always has excellent players alongside him in order to make great music, not to show off." Hunter returns to the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis for just one night, one show, November 5th. 

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Charlie HunterİAndrea Canter
Charlie Hunter was born in Rhode Island. When he was four his mom packed him and his younger sister into an old yellow school bus and headed west. After several years living on a commune in Mendocino County, they settled in Berkeley, California, where young Charlie was destined to become a guitarist. His mom repaired guitars and, by age 12, Charlie had purchased his own for $7. While Berkeley has produced its share of jazz greats, including Joshua Redman and Benny Green (who both attended the same high school as Charlie), Hunter was not part of the music program. "I really wasn't an institutional-type person. I had to go out and do my own thing…Because I was from a low-income family, I was tracked into the lowest level of academic courses. You didn't get a chance to develop much self-esteem there, so I decided to focus on something that made me feel good…I was into everything at that point - blues, rockabilly, funk and soul..." 

 

At 18, Hunter was pulled into jazz by friends encouraging him to listen to Weather Report. But his first response was, “This is fusion. I'm not really into that.” He listened next to Wes Montgomery, but the strings on the album turned him off. Finally, he heard Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Charlie Christian, “and it was like boom! 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."

 

Influenced by organ greats Jimmy Smith and Larry Young, Hunter fused his growing interest in jazz with the music of his favorite artists--Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Little Walter. But overall Hunter attributes the development of his sound to the eclectic influences surrounding him in the Bay Area. “Growing up in the Bay Area had a profound effect on my music. I was exposed to everything from the Dead Kennedy's to P-Funk to Art Blakey. In the Bay Area, you have all of these different musical cultures living together and all of these different musical cultures and their music gets semi-assimilated into this non-polarized state of being where hybrids are free to grow, and there are all of these genres and cross genres to play in and around."

 

Hunter is known for his unconventional guitars. He had his first custom 7-string (with two  bass strings, 2 pickups) in the late eighties, and took it to Paris and Zurich where he worked as a street musician.  Covering bass and string parts, he returned to the Bay Area, gigging in clubs until he met poet/rapper Michael Franti. Hunter toured with Franti’s Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in the early 90s, but left after a year to pursue more jazz-oriented music. Soon he had formed the first edition of the Charlie Hunter Trio with high school buddy, tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis, and drummer Jay Lane. A weekly gig at the Elbo Room in San Francisco was the incubator for what became their distinctive Bay Area sound. The trio released its first self-titled recording, then in 1995 they debuted on Blue Note. By now Charlie had added yet another bass string, and was making waves with his 8-string guitar.

 

Over the next decade, the Charlie Hunter Trio expanded to a Quartet and Quintet, playing through personnel changes and experimenting with different combinations of sounds, more brass, more percussion. At one point he added vibraphone monster Stefon Harris, dubbing the ensemble Pound for Pound. In 1997, Hunter changed his geography as well, relocating to Brooklyn, and two years later joined forces with Leon Parker for a duo recording. “Just meeting and then getting to play with someone like Leon is why I came here [to New York]," 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." And continuing the duo format, Hunter toured with drummer Adam Cruz as the millennium faded.

 

Over his career, Hunter has played with Scott Amendola, Will Bernard, Skerik, Mimi Fox, Kurt Elling, Bobby Previte, Greg Osby, Josh Roseman, Mos Def, Norah Jones, Adam Cruz, John Mayer and Willard Dyson, among others; he co-founded Garage A Trois, a jazz fusion band with Stanton Moore and Skerik; and proving he can be more conventional, he recorded with six-string guitars on Christian McBride’s Live at Tonic (2006). Then in 2006, he removed the top guitar string from his 8-string guitar, and, with a modification in the guitar neck, created a 7-string on the old 8 string body. He explained that because he has relatively small hands, he had to move out of position to make use of the 8th string, which was thus not used often.  On the new instrument, Charlie retuned the strings up a half-step: F-Bflat-Eflat on the bass and Bflat-Eflat-Aflat-C on the guitar strings, giving it a more bluesy and distortion-based sound.

 

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Charlie Hunter (by Roger Humbert)
In July 2007, the “new” Charlie Hunter Trio released Mistico on Concord, a set of nine relatively compact and spirited original compositions that favored a funky blues vibe with plenty of rock energy. Noted JazzReview.com, “Mistico is a stunning combination of jazz, rock, fusion and signature Charlie Hunter guitar work, which defies easy categorization.” Having touched on elements of soul-jazz, reggae and boisterous funk-rock in the past, Hunter recently set aside electronics for a cleaner tone well-suited for a 2010 solo album of classic covers chosen by his 100-year-old grandfather, aptly called Public Domain.

 

Last month, Hunter paired up with long-standing cohort, drummer Scot Amendola, on Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead. A complete departure from Public Domain—a true solo album—and the previous Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid—which incorporated two trombones and trumpet into Hunter's instrumental arsenal—Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead is Hunter's first recording of original compositions in three years. It's also, perhaps, his most candid and forthright set of songs ever. "Our intention in making this record was to tell a bunch of stories around the central theme of the album’s title,” says Hunter. "The new tunes are meant to evoke some of the things you might see in your travels through the USA these days. Scott and I wanted to think of each composition as a starting point for some kind of narrative."

Recorded with Hunter and Amendola playing in the same room simultaneously—an old-school recording method that has been virtually lost in today's cut-and-paste world—the tunes of Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead were written by Hunter while at home, inspired by his touring. "I love the nooks and crannies of the U.S., and this album is for the people living in these places.”

Now, on the heels of his new release, Charlie Hunter comes to the Dakota Jazz Club for just one night, November 5 at 7 pm.

The Dakota is located at 1010 Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis; www.dakotacooks.com or contact the Box Office at 612-332-5299.



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