By Jason West
By Rob Evanoff
Like any highly skilled marksman or sharpshooter, a trusty weapon is an essential accessory in traipsing the terrain as a hunter. And when you are a highly skilled hunter by namesake as well, you hunt for new grooves with an instrument that’s an extension of your creative energy, which in Charlie Hunter’s case is an eight string guitar, a unique weapon indeed, as a resting bed for three bass strings and five guitar strings.
Hunter, now 32, grew up in Berkeley CA and has been playing guitar for 20 years, purchasing his first six-string for a paltry $7 and soon finding himself taking lessons from just another Berkeley guitar teacher, a Mr. Joe Satriani. Charlie practiced and practiced and continued exploring those same old half dozen strings until the late 80s when his destined path on the way to the great eight took a step forward as he began playing a seven-string guitar, which had two bass strings, five guitar strings and two pickups. From there, it wasn’t long until he was invited to join the Bay-area alternative rap duo Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (DHH), which he did in 1993, and found himself on tour opening up for U2 and Primus. After a year with DHH, he wanted to start his own thing and since then has constantly sought the right combination of players for the vibe he is hunting for.
The Charlie Hunter Trio and their self-titled debut hit in 1994, which got the attention of Blue Note Records (who signed him) and he recorded another trio record entitled Bing Bing Bing! (1995), a guitar, tenor saxophone, drum trio. Three was company but Charlie wanted four on the floor, so the Charlie Hunter Trio became a quartet as he added an alto saxophone for two recordings, Ready...Set...Shango! (1996) and Natty Dread (1997), which was a re-envisioning of Bob Marley’s classic recording.
In 1998, Hunter switched things up again with Return of the Candyman by retiring the horn section and enlisting vibes player Stefon Harris and percussionist John Santos and renaming the quartet Pound For Pound. This release and subsequent tour earned him his jamband ‘badge of recognition’ as Pound For Pound hit the road with Galatic for a cluster of dates that often resulted in charged up performances eliciting raving enthusiastic response. From there, Charlie scaled back to the basics in 1999 by teaming up with the brilliant drummer Leon Parker on the magnificent opus Duo which set the stage for his latest endeavor that hit in June 2000. With the release of Charlie Hunter, this versatile producer and musician revisits each of his plateaus, but with a hip, cool wide-open wave of jazz and blues mixed with a soulful mood. Some tracks feature Charlie solo, several with Leon Parker as a duo, a few with the addition of a horn section and a couple as a sextet to allow for a bit more percussive depth.
What more could they want, fans seemingly had it all pound for pound; they had the quartet, and trio and duo recordings but what if they just couldn’t get enough of their eight-string man. Well, the hunting for Hunter is finally over as a limited opportunity to have Charlie all to themselves has presented itself. On May 15 & 16th, Hunter went back to Avatar Studios, where he recorded Charlie Hunter this past January, and knocked out a solo eight-string guitar record titled, funny enough, Solo Eight String Guitar . The CD features a dozen tracks including covers of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” T. Monk’s “Green Chimneys” as well as a rendition of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding” and Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Soweto”. Hunter thickens the cohesive stew with the inclusion of four original interludes that only an eight-string guitar can do. You would think he has four hands! Fans of Wes Montgomery and Grant Green will be delighted by this solo effort but you better hurry, since only 2000 copies of the CD were pressed. It was released in August, on his very own Contra Punto Records, and is available only at his shows or www.charliehunter.com.
Hunter continues to be one of Blue Note’s most popular artists, but has also found time to contribute to other albums, most notably pop star D’Angelo’s recent Voodoo release which features Hunter on three tracks, two of which he shares co-writing credit and singer and label mate Patricia Barber’s Nightclub . In the past, he has shown off his multi-faceted wares having also collaborated with Zap Mama, Dave Ellis, Tevin Campbell, Les Claypool and William S. Burroughs.