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Interviews

Charlie Hunter: Living the Music

By Published: September 26, 2005
AAJ: That's the jazz thing.

CH: That's the jazz thing. And it can be a great thing and that is the identity of the tenor saxophone. Yet what I like about Skerik is that he's immersed himself in that, but to the same degree he's also immersed himself really deeply in punk rock and heavy metal. He spent a lot of time in London where he played with these zoukous guys from Zaire. So he's really into that music and into lots of production stuff, and all that stuff just comes across in what he does. His use of electronics, all the analog processing stuff he does with his horn—in that department, I think he's kind of the benchmark for everyone else that plays saxophone.

AAJ: It's funny that you speak of him as a frontman, because even though this is a music of collective parts, if anyone is playing a front melody, it is usually him.

CH: Right. But the thing about the saxophone is that it's like our version of the operatic tenor. The second you play one note on it, it's just this incredible clarion call: "wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! It's very hard for a horn like that to be in the rhythm section. And he does a really great job of being in the rhythm section as a horn player.

AAJ: I like how at certain times on the record he becomes not just the horn player, but the horn section. There aren't many overdubs, but there are parts where he's a whole overdubbed section.

CH: Yeah, and the reason we did that was because after we had made the record, a few of those tunes that didn't have any of the sax stuff on them—we felt like, well, these are lines that are rhythmic lines. They're not really dealing with the melodic narrative, so to speak; they're not standing on their own in a way that if the saxophone was a guitar or a piano, they would. So we figured, let's section up that stuff—not to make it bigger sounding, but to make it sound like less of a non sequitur.

AAJ: "The Dream is a remarkable-sounding tune. I think it's just your guitar, vibes, and Skerik's sax. It's got this steamy, close ambience.

CH: Well, I've been working with [drummer] Bobby Previte a lot. He's turned me on to a lot of the minimalist composers. I was just joking around with the guys, because we were doing all of this heavy stuff, so I said, "well, let's just do a quick little Steve Reich piece or a Philip Glass kind of piece. So that was it, basically, lots of very simple parts intertwining to make one thing where, again, there's no melody dominating.

And essentially, that's the idea behind this whole record. It really is a rhythmically focused, minimalist piece where there's no melody that's predominating—the music that happens occurs with the mixture of all the rhythmic parts. And the way the music keeps your attention, if it does, is just in the small changes that are done in the course of what appears to be a completely repetitive groove. That's the overarching concept.

AAJ: Fortunately, I find that stuff totally absorbing, so the album really works for me. And I think Garage à Trois really sounds like itself—meaning I don't think there's another group out there now that sounds like it. But songs like "Needles and "Antoine really do make me think of one person, and that's James Brown. Skerik's got some Maceo Parker in his playing in "Antoine and Stanton's as powerful as Clyde Stubblefield, which is a huge compliment. But it's the overall locked grooves that make me think of James Brown and the way his songs were also sort of modularly composed of a couple of rhythmic parts. Anything to this comparison?

CH: Oh, definitely. I've studied that music pretty intensely. Really intensely, actually. But that kind of falls in line; when you think about it, James Brown was a funk minimalist. All of those parts create a sum that's larger than than the individual parts.

AAJ: And a lot of them were just written by James in his head on a bus between gigs and then they pulled over at some studio and just tracked them.

CH: Yeah, but a lot of it was also written by [trombonist] Fred Wesley. He wrote a lot of that stuff, and I had the good fortune to be on the road with him for a three-week tour that was educational—to say the least.

AAJ: Outre Mer sounds pretty different from the first Garage album, Emphasizer. That one sounds more psychedelic, less polyrhythmic. Do you think this new one differs much from the first?

CH: Oh, vastly. We didn't have any concept when we went in to do that record. We weren't even sure we really wanted to do a record. But we would play every year at [New Orleans] Jazz Fest with that group, once a year—and then it got kind of popular with what I guess people would call the jamband crowd.

AAJ: Where you've always had something of a following.

CH: A little bit. You know, I'm happy to have it because I think that with a lot of that music, they're valiantly trying to improvise and trying to be rhythmic—but they just don't have the background or the vocabulary yet to do it. Most of those kinds of jambands just aren't ready yet to approach that music. But they try! And I think it's really a serendipitous thing, because their fans are also not really evolved yet in their musical journey to really be able to get more than what those guys are doing. So it's kind of a cool thing.

But then the people who have evolved beyond that are thinking, "wait a minute, I really want to hear some music that is improvisational and has a rhythmic thing that goes beyond this —and that's where people like us who have been trained as musicians our whole lives come in. So I think that we got a huge audience from that, and we just had to put a record out. So we did that Emphasizer record, but for the next record, I was very adamant. I've been making records for a long time, and I always try to go in with some type of an overarching concept as to whatever the record is. Not so much that it kills the music, but enough so that there's a statement made.



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