Charlie Hunter Trio
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by John Metzger
Wed August 29, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
The difficulties that jazz artists face when they opt to cater to a jam band crowd is that if they arenít careful, their creative potential can be significantly diluted ó and even derailed ó by the venture. Simply put, it can be a highly restrictive format that is akin to progressive rock, and the problems that the jam band ethic poses are not unlike those that many musicians encountered in the 1970s when jazz-fusion became a more lucrative manner of making a living. For a guitarist, the challenges become all the more daunting because technical wizardry and weird sound effects have a tendency to win when pitted against the forces of emotional purity. Charlie Hunter is the latest axeman to plunge headfirst into the abyss, and although his latest effort Mistico proves that he survived the fall, it also highlights how many injuries he sustained.
This latest chapter in Hunterís musical odyssey began with the departure of John Ellis. Rather than return to the framework of his trios from the past, Hunter rebuilt his outfit from the ground up. Not only did he swap drummer Derrek Phillips for Simon Lott, but he also replaced saxophonist Ellis with keyboard player Erik Deutsch. It was the latter modification that has spurred what is, perhaps, the biggest change in Hunterís approach.
Where John Ellis ó as well as Greg Osby, Kenny Brooks, and Dave Ellis before him ó once sparred with Hunter and thus kept him grounded, Deutsch seems relegated, whether by choice or by happenstance, to a supporting role. His talent is wasted most whenever he switches from piano to Casiotone. With more room to maneuver, Hunter runs rampant, but his solos have a tendency to sound as if he is playing them simply to please himself. At the same time, he has lent his guitar a muddier, more barbed tonality, and the end result is that Mistico unequivocally feels more in tune with rock than jazz. Even worse, it is filled with songs that are in desperate need of a creative spark.
The epitome of Misticoís problems arrives during the albumís fourth track Balls. Here, Hunter essentially ruminates upon the Rolling Stonesí The Last Time, while Lott and Deutsch sound as if they are auditioning for Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Although the tune might receive huge cheers on the festival circuit ó one can just imagine a shirtless Lott raising his arms triumphantly every time that he bangs a drum ó itís not the sort of inspired, inventive statement that one would expect from someone of Hunterís caliber.
For the record, the rest of Mistico fares moderately better. There are some lovely moments tucked inside Estranged, and the title track embraces its meditative pulse. Still, by swerving from swinging grooves (Lady!) to í60s struts (Special Shirt) to driving funk (Speakers Built In) without accomplishing much of anything, the trio frequently seems as if it is more intent on conjuring moods than filling its songs with substance. Hunter is too smart and too skilled a performer to be stuck in this rut forever, and with any luck, Mistico will prove to be a temporary diversion rather than a new direction. Ĺ
Mistico is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box