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Charlie Hunter: Living the Music

By Published: September 26, 2005
AAJ: It's funny you mention genre. If I'm picking through the material on the CDs, I can say this song sounds like this kind of music, and this other one sounds like that kind. "Tropic of Cancer sounds kind of like King Crimson, say. But it's really about how you can play any way you want.

CH: Yeah, it's more like playing what you think is appropriate for the moment. It's not about trying to force any particular style within the parameters—and the parameters we play in are pretty large! Ultimately, at the end of it, it's just trying to get into that space where you feel like you're hitting the right thing and you're making music. And it feels intuitive rather than being counterintuitive. Now, when we first started, I would be playing something good and then feel like I wasn't doing the right thing and launch into some idiotic cliché. Luckily for me, Bobby was patient [laughing]. But it's a way of exercising that completely improvisational aspect of who you are. It's been great for me because it's really informed everything else I do in a really cool way.

AAJ: I don't want to belabor the point of it all being live, but I have to ask. Is everything I hear happening in real time? For example, "Horse Latitudes South on Latitude has these different sections and I thought it was an edit piece.

CH: Yes. Well, here's the thing. Everything we did, we did live—and then Bobby took it home and chopped it up and edited it. Which is pretty much what they did with every jazz record you've ever heard [laughing].

AAJ: So did the improvising change when you were playing with Osby, or DJ Logic?

CH: Yeah, well, it did earlier—but as Bobby and I have played together, our thing as a unit has become so strong that they kind of had to get in where they fit in. And most people do. Anyone playing with you is going to change where your direction is. But I just think we've got such a continuity with what we're doing that most people come in and fill in the blanks. And sometimes we leave a lot of blanks to be filled.

AAJ: So this is live music and at the same time, the CDs have some weird, unnatural ambiences. It's a totally studio-effected sound at times.

CH: Bobby is really the one who did all the editing on that stuff. And he did all the mixing. I particularly like the record we did with Logic because Scott Harding did a great job mixing it. He's really a killing engineer.

AAJ: When you finish one of these records, is there very much unused material left over?

CH: Hours. We could make lots of different records of this. If we really wanted to be cool, and everyone in the world had Pro Tools, we could just put it up on the internet and everyone could make their own record out of it.

AAJ: So the upcoming and final Groundtruther installment is called Altitude, and now we know DJ Olive is the third member for this one. Is this recorded yet?

CH: Not yet, but very soon.

AAJ: Let's talk about your main gig, the Charlie Hunter Trio, which now consists of Derrek Phillips on drums and John Ellis on tenor, bass clarinet and flute.

CH: And actually Wurlitzer and melodica now.

AAJ: Oh, I had no idea.

CH: Yeah, we recorded a record down in New Orleans last April. And it's pretty smashing! It's a real departure for us. It'll be out on Ropeadope in January.

AAJ: John's recorded debut with you was the Songs From the Analog Playground CD.

CH: Yes, we've been together for a long time, going on five years now.

AAJ: Derrek joined around the time of the quintet album, Right Now Move.

CH: Yeah, about three years ago now.

AAJ: Tell me how you got acquainted with these two.

CH: Well, John—it all goes back to New Orleans today, everything.

AAJ: Well, it would.

CH: Stanton Moore introduced us. John lived in New Orleans for a long time and he moved up to Brooklyn. I needed a horn player so I went to hear him and said, "oh, you sound great: here's a gig. It worked out real nice. So we've been hookin' it up ever since; we've been through quite a few different groups together. Then Derrek—he's about ten or eleven years younger than I am, and I knew him when he was a kid out in the Bay Area. He moved out here and I thought, "wow, he's ready to roll. He's just been killing ever since. Every time we play together, he's got more scary stuff happening than he did the time before.

AAJ: I think that guy is tailor-made for your band.

CH: Yeah, we have a really nice thing.

AAJ: It's got to be nice that John Ellis is a good composer as well as a horn player. That means with you, there are two writers in the band now.

CH: Exactly. Derrek is coming along; he's started writing. But John's a great writer and a lot of times John and I—well, maybe I'll have an "A section and he'll have a "B section, or his "B section will actually become the "A section, or whatever. We'll just mash stuff together to make tunes.

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