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Charlie Hunter: Living the Music

By Published: September 26, 2005
AAJ: Well, a record kind of needs a meaning.

CH: Exactly. And especially those of us who are in our late thirties, early forties, who kind of grew up with records—where you would go to the record store and you would see something and go, "oh, what is this? Hmm, Back in Black. I remember buying a vinyl copy of Are You Experienced? and being, like, wow! And whatever the record was—the Beatles, Marvin Gaye—they all had a concept.

AAJ: And the record covers—back in the day, you couldn't hear anything in the record store. You had to buy it to find out how it sounded. And that was kind of cool. Especially when I brought home, say, Houses of the Holy and it sounded exotically cool, just like the record cover. They knew how to package that stuff.

CH: But the thing that's so beautiful is that I don't think they were thinking about packaging. They were just living it. All those guys back then. And it's the same thing with Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Louis Armstong, Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, Roy Acuff, Hank Williams—they were just living it. That's why it sounds so good and it resonates, because that was just the reality. They were just simply living it. Which is not to say they weren't intellectual giants, because they were, but they also were just in it and living in the time.

AAJ: There was nothing market-driven or contrived about what they were writing or playing.

CH: Because they defined the market. What they did, just by force of the power of what they were doing, defined the market. The market didn't define the music; the music defined the market.

AAJ: I wonder if we've gone way too far the other way.

CH: Oh, we're all the way the other direction.

AAJ: Musician as content provider.

CH: I don't know; "content is going a little far! There's so little there. I do dig the White Stripes. I like the record they have out now.

AAJ: They're great, yeah. Let's talk about your work with Bobby Previte, who's become a great collaborator of yours.

CH: Yeah! Teacher, really.

AAJ: I think you worked with him first on the Come In Red Dog, This Is Tango Leader CD. Now you and he have done two albums of a projected trilogy as Groundtruther, which is a duo with a rotating third member. Before we start discussing the actual records, tell me how you and Previte started working together.

CH: He just called me up. Skerik is a mutual friend of ours. So he called me and we just hung out, jammed a little bit. So we were like, "yeah, let's play some, and it has just evolved since then.

AAJ: Okay, the two of you did Come In Red Dog, This Is Tango Leader; that's the two of you in the studio. What made you both then decide to do this Groundtruther project with a rotating third member?

CH: That was kind of our modus operandi. We'd been playing lots of gigs at the Knitting Factory at the Old Office. And we'd have a third-person guest; we'd play four nights and each night we'd have a different guest. We've had [soprano saxophonist] Jane Ira Bloom, [tenor man/multiinstrumentalist] Peter Apfelbaum, [trombonist] Ray Anderson, [tenor player] Seamus Blake, [keyboardist] Uri Caine, [trumpeter] Steven Bernstein, [altoist] Oliver Lake—and of course, [alto player] Greg Osby, who we play with a lot now. And [turntablist] DJ Logic, who also we play with a lot. [Osby is the third player besides Hunter and Previte on the first Groundtruther CD, 2004's Latitude, and Logic is the guest on this year's Groundtruther album, Longitude.] We've almost morphed into a quasi-band unit, because we have played with a guy called DJ Olive lately a whole lot, and he's the guy we're going to be doing the last installment of the trilogy with.

AAJ: So the Groundtruther CDs are pretty much live in the studio, right?

CH: Everything we do is live, yeah. And it's all improvised. The idea behind it is that we're just trying to improvise songs, really. Tunes. We're trying to come up with a tune until it reaches its fruition within the stream of things, and then it'll morph into another tune. Or one of us will stop, and someone else will start something. So it's basically just on-the-spot tunewriting.

AAJ: So you're playing your eight-string on this stuff, obviously. Bobby is playing a regular kit and also electronic drums?

CH: Exactly. He's got a regular kit and then he's got these pads that trigger samples that he's made. And that's really great, because, you know, Bobby's quite a composer. Basically, if it's a duo, it's just the two of us there composing. Perhaps I'll put in a little melodic fragment. Then he'll put in a melodic fragment and maybe they'll work together. Maybe they won't be quite in tune and that makes it more exciting. It's just a way of trying to get to a third thing that's not particular to any quote-unquote genre. It's been great for me; it's really opened me up and gotten me to use that part of my imagination. It's very scary in a lot of ways, and just as exciting.

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