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Charlie Hunter Friends Seen and Unseen Review


BBC Review

First trio outing in ten years for the bewilderingly talented guitarist.

Peter Marsh 2004

It's hard not to write about Charlie Hunter without mentioning his phenomenal guitar technique. For the uninitiated, Hunter plays a customised 8 string instrument which allows him to play bass lines along with his nifty chordal and solo work. Is this a mere showman's gimmick or a handy way of economising on band members?

Well if you ask me, the answer's neither. Hunter's playing seems unconstrained by his duties at the bottom end, and he avoids the pointless grandstanding of someone like Stanley Jordan (anyone remember him?). Over the last ten years or so, his solo efforts have seen him in various lineups (as well as the odd quintet and associations with anyone from Norah Jones to Mos' Def), but he's back to the trio format for this tidy little album.

Though this is mainly for economic reasons, it's the format in which Hunter's playing makes most sense. The warm throb of his economic, precise bass lines recalls the fancy footwork of Jimmy Smith or Charles Earland, and his fondness for Leslie-type effects gives his chords an, er... 'organic' feel. Touches of distortion or wah are applied with care and restraint.

Hunter quite rightly resists the 'Acid Jazz' tag that seems to get applied to his work. It's easy to hear how some of these modal, slinky grooves might appeal to that crowd, but there's much more here than mere groove. Check the airy "Darkly". which comes across like a 60s Charlie Byrd session on a diet of mulitivitamins, or the folky lilt of Abdullah Ibrahim's lovely "Soweto's Where It's At". But most of all it's the fluid, assured improvisational skils of Hunter and saxophonist John Ellis that lift this lot above the usual retro wannabes.

Ellis is an affable presence, delivering fruity, big-toned solos on tenor, with occasional bass clarinet and flute touches. Imagine Sonny Rollins playing with the Meters (this sums up the likes of the naggingly funky "Freedom Tickler" quite nicely) and you get some idea of what he's up to, though the sweet, dark bass clarinet on "My Son the Hurricane" is my favourite moment on the album. Hunter's detailed comping is as engaging as any of his solos. It's hard to put a finger on his influences, which is probably just as it should be. Hunter's guitar seduces rather than surprises, which is a pretty neat summation of the whole album. Recommended.

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