Charlie Hunter's first trio record since 2003's Friends Seen and Unseen balances his talents as a composer (he wrote or co-wrote every track except for the set-ending take of Monk's "Think of One ), as a bandleader, as a band member interplaying with drummer Derrek Phillips and John Ellis (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, Wurlitzer organ and melodica), and as lead guitar hot shot.
Hunter rips the lid off with the first cut, "Cueball Bobbin', which crackles with the electricity of amplified rock, specifically Jimi Hendrix's funk-acid-rock circa his Band of Gypsys soul patrol with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. The mobile fluid bottom moves thick and deep and dark and heavy, following the lead of the guitar's electric squall as Hunter murderously wrings nasty-toned blues licks from the neck of his guitar. (Says the guitarist, "I was just feeling rocky, I guess... )
The trio nails this Monk classic, which isn't always quite so user-friendly, down flat. The bass, drum and saxophone funk trio that opens up its middle passage is deeply soulful, quicksilver small ensemble jazzplayed, I suspect, in precisely the light and humorously way that a grinning Monk would love to hear it.
Monk's sensibility also seems to seep into the title track. Ellis' tenor seems to softly pad in and look around for its opening, then settles down into an extended blues duet with Hunter's electrified Delta guitar. It seems to suggest the interplay between tenor and piano in a blues played by Monk; its melody seems to build upon its notes in oddly geometric, little incremental steps, like many Monk melodies do, too.
"Blue Sock and "A Street Fight Could Break Out mine more inspiration from the blues. "Sock swings through an airy bridge into juke-joint soul you might hear at a barbeque throwdown with Eddie Harris and Les McCann, and comes to rest with Hunter plucking soft country guitar blues as Ellis' melodica howls like a harmonica, just kickin' back on the front porch. "A Street Fight Could Break Out tethers from its central passage of just bass and drum, cavernously thumping dub reggae style, thick and spacey.
(One possible problem with this sequencing: The hard-rockin' "Cueball Bobbin' is easily the best piece, yet it doesn't seem to have much to do with the rest of this set, which seems more structured, lending more emphasis to the compositions then the playing of the compositions. Making it the leadoff track seems to set rock-oriented listeners up for a payoff that never comes.)
Personnel: Charlie Hunter: 8-string guitar; John Ellis: tenor sax, bass clarinet, Wurlitzer, melodica;
Derrek Phillips: drums.