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Issue: February 1995
"Charlie Hunter Trio" (Mammoth/Prawn Song)
Charlie Hunter Trio

This disc is immediately notable for two reasons: 1) the packaging and approach appeals to young, alternative music fans, which explains the CHT's appearance at Lollapalooza and their appearance on the alternative rock label Mammoth, and 2) the bass player seems to be the least lustrous member of this group, until you realize that guitarist Charlie Hunter is playing the bass parts while simultaneously leading the group on a modified eight-string electric guitar made by luthier Ralph Novak. (The top five strings are the high strings on a guitar; the lower three strings are the low strings of a bass. The signal that comes out of the guitar is split, with one going to a jazz guitar amp and the other through a chorus pedal to a bass amp.)

Those two aspects may hit the listener first, but after three songs, this debut album starts to work on the ears in a different way, dazzling with its restrained virtuosity, clear vision and dexterity. The Charlie Hunter Trio could very well be the Next Big Thing in jazz.

Drummer Jay Lane has a resume with rock 'n' roll on it and a technique that shines bright on funk and swing tunes. Saxophonist David Ellis seems the most rooted in modern jazz, demonstrating Brecker-like fluidity and a touch of Joe Lovano's passion -- and evident knowledge of both players' work. And the leader of the group steers the Trio into a direction that puts a high value on the harmonic interplay of the instruments, a direction spearheaded by Hunter's interactive, thoughtful guitar playing.

Hunter has said that he approaches his instrument differently due to his love of the Hammond B-3 organ, another instrument that absorbs the duties of the bass guitar. This shows not only in his compositions but in his comping -- and in his guitar sound, which sometimes forsakes a clean tone for the fatness and Hammond-ish sound of a chorus effects pedal. And his "bass" playing? Hunter hasn't quite arrived yet as a bassist; he hasn't found the time or fingers to pull off the double-duty in a blazing way. So, for the moment, we are forced to be dazzled by the feat itself, much like we were amazed by Roland Kirk's simultaneous play of several instruments.

It's easier to be amazed by Hunter's bass work on swing tunes such as "Live Oak" and the Latin-tinged "Rhythm Comes in 12 Tones" and "Dance of the Jazz Fascists." Funky songs such as "Fred's Life" and "Funky Niblets" are convincingly groovy but less of a tour de force. The guitarist gets to stretch out a bit on a couple of showcase tunes; "Mule" and "Fables of Faubus" (the only non-original on the CD, written by Charles Mingus) are further evidence of the Charlie Hunter's ascendancy. Although Charlie Hunter will be the person in this group that you will most likely hear the most about, the trio format seems to be an ideal vehicle for the precocious guitar player's adventures.

Folks who see the jazz field as a self-propelled vehicle that cannibalizes on the past should listen to this trio, an avatar for the future of jazz.

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