Cover Story [Issue
Bridging Brain With Booty
Right Now Move
CD Ropeadope )
to Charlie Hunter on the ONE WAY CD 3
from Charlie Hunters latest album, Right Now Move, is the kind
of instrumental tour de force that makes musicians cry and causes fans to gasp
Over a pugnacious
second line groove, a steamy, clambake of a melody is greased and filleted via
harmonica, horns, drums and Hunters secret weapon, the 8-string hybrid
guitar. Simultaneously playing bass and melody, Hunter pops a million questions
in the songs brief three-minute timeframe. Melodies crawl like a lazy
June bugs while bass lines bubble like a hyperactive whiz kid chalking up geometry
equations. Hunter darts between strings with breathtaking agility, dropping
bass anecdotes and curlicue melodic phrases. Right Now Move is a righteous good
time of funky third world inspired music.
Inventing a new instrument would signal victory for most musicians, but Charlie
Hunter has crossbred more than gut wire and technique in his search for musical
satisfaction. With nine albums under his belt, the latest on indie label Ropeadope,
Hunters style is American as tanks and taters but as pan global as humus
paste, Cuban cigars and African diamonds.
"I view it all as one thing," says Hunter from his Montclair, New
Jersey home. "Theyre new world versions of the original rhythms.
New Orleans; Salvador and Bahia; Havana and Cuba, those are the three new world
jumping-off places for the three different versions of African music. One became
jazz; one became Cuban son, changui and charango; the other became Brazilian
samba, capoera and forre. All that music is linked by an African clave of some
kind whether it is a swing beat, a funk beat, a New Orleans beat, a samba beat
or 3/2 rumba clave. Its all got a common heritage, like all human beings
on the planet do.
Hunter has recorded duo, trio, and quartet formats; Right Now Move is the Hunter
polyglot aided by harmonica master Gregoire Moret, drummer Derrek Phillips,
trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (formerly of the Jazz Passengers), and tenor saxophonist
John Phillips. Hunter transforms this somewhat traditional jazz lineup into
a world-beating beast that executes Oakland strut funk and African and Latin
rhythms with equal ease. His band sounds like a single cell organism on the
verge of musical ecstasy and cross-conceptual orgasm. Hunters ace in the
hole is Moret, who lends each track a smoky romance missing in most modern music.
Gregoire has really developed the chromatic harmonica to a different level.
It blends really great with the trombone and the tenor. I wanted to have a horn
section that was different, that was sonically not an Art Blakey sound. I love
that, but I felt I wanted to try something a little different.
Hunters most sensuous album to date, Right Now Move kicks off with the
nearly Latin shuffle of Mestra Tata, bucks into a Los Lobos
groove with Changui, goes mad with New Orleans street flavor on
Whoop-Ass, catches African soukous sweetness with Mali,
and wails like a band of charmed burlesque conjurers for Le Bateau Ivre.
CHARLIES GUIDED TOUR
When I was with my band in San Paolo, Brazil, recalls Hunter, we
went to a music shop to look for pandeiros [Brazilian tambourine] and other
instruments. Like all music shops, this one had a bulletin board with things
posted on it. There was an ad for someone named Mestre Tata who taught Brazilian
percussion instruments. The owner of the shop told us that Mestre Tata was right
upstairs! So we went up to his studio and had an hour-long percussion lesson
with this 60 year-old percussion master. That song was inspired by that experience.
Oakland is a tribute to the East Bay Area where I grew up,
he continues. We don't play this dumb-dumb funk very often
because it's so hard to pull off. But Derrick knows how to play this stuff the
right way because hes from Oakland. Changui is a style of
Cuban street music that I'm really into. Mali started out as a tribute
to the music of Mali, but then my jazz harmony concept reared its ugly head
and changed this piece into an entirely different thing. Le Bateau Ivre
is the title of a poem by French Poet Arthur Rimbaud. It means The Drunken
Boat and I thought this tune sounded like that: Just a goofy little tune
that bobs along.
Charlie Hunter has lived all over, from the San Francisco Bay area to Brooklyn
to New Jersey. And while some think of his bastard jazz as a jam band junket,
Hunters a student of all styles.
When I moved to New York I got into this whole Nuyorican thing. I really
identify with that music. It has the Cuban clave bass, but also a lot of the
American soul and blues and jazz influence. When I listen to Eddie Palmieri
or Jerry Gonzales and the Fort Apache band or Tito Puente, all that stuff hits
me in a very special way. I was playing with [drummer] Adam Cruz - his dad is
famous timbale player Ray Cruz - he really schooled me on a lot of those rhythms.
And I love Brazilian music as well.
Right Now Moves polyglot styles and sounds could fall under the banner
of world music, but its really American music. Just as the slaves in Congo
Square altered European marches into the second line rhythms of New Orleans
and Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker fused Afro Cuban rhythms with bebop,
Hunter is seeking a contemporary fusion.
I was in Sao Paolo for a week, he recalls. We went around,
saw samba de pagodge where they sit in a circle playing samba. I took some salsa
lessons down there too. And I have always listened to African music like music
from Mali and Oumou Sangare and Ali Farke Toure and Neba Solo. Neba Solo is
an incredible baliphone ensemble. I also like a lot of the soukous music from
Zaire, or what is now Republic of the Congo.
As his music jumps styles like a crocodile rolling a doomed tourist, Charlie
Hunter lays claim to a most unusual audience. Lazy critics like to lump him
into the jam band trend, while jazzbos note his tonal similarity to grizzled
jazz guitarist John Scofield. But Hunter says his audience spans ages, lifestyles
and locales. He takes a renegade approach to finding and satisfying that audience,
doing whatever is necessary to get the music into their hands. Playing tiny
clubs and college radio shows, even offering his music free of charge on Kazaa
and other file sharing websites is okay by Charlie.
I believe in doing it all for free, he says. For someone like
me who is at the very bottom of the ladder, we dont even notice it when
we fall off the ladder. The majority of my living is made off of live performance.
It is important for me to sell records and CDs do sound better than MP3s, for
sure. But ultimately, it is more important for me that people know about the
music I am making and that they have access to it in any way, shape or form.
Hunter knows the value of guerilla marketing; he also understands the role of
the independent label versus the corporate monstrosity. Formerly on Blue Note,
a jazz label that you might suspect to be run like an indie, Hunter has found
a happier home on New Yorks Ropeadope Records. He now makes music that
he describes as three dimensional.
I think musicians who work within the corporate world can make good music
and have an impact, take my friend Norah Jones, for instance. But that is very
rare. Ultimately those people end up becoming two-dimensional, they become so
removed from their audience and so involved in the culture of corporatization
and the video culture that they can really no longer relate to their audience
on that three dimensional human level. If you go to any country outside the
US, music is a really necessary part of life that is not corporatized. It is
a cultural part of life whether it is a griot or mariachis. Like Art Blakey
said, It brushes the dust off of your workaday week. I want that
connection with the audience.
a pause and puts down the receiver. Bidding farewell to some guests, he can
be overheard saying, Hey man, its all good.
all the trappings are gone, he says, returning to the phone, when
there is no MTV, no sugar cereal to sell, what are you left with as a person?
You should be happy with your music whether you are penniless or making millions.
You should be happy with the fundamental reality of what you are doing.
Right Now Move
to (Charlie Hunter) on the ONE WAY CD