Guitarist Charlie Hunter is a musician on a journey. Never to be satisfied with a ravishingly successful recording career spanning 17 albums, he has continued to explore his own musical tastes, not to pander to his fans, or necessarily in search of something, but merely following the currents of his musical self. Continuing the evolution of his style and sound, Baboon Strength
builds convincingly on the preceding Mistico
(Fantasy, 2007), drilling down deeper into a groove aesthetic that has seemingly been a magnet to him throughout his career; one that he perhaps overshot more than once. The funk from earlier recordings which, for the most part, he omitted from Mistico
, is back. Oh boy, is it back.
Together with keyboardist Erik Deutsch and drummer Tony Mason, Hunter presents nine strong tracks of infectious groove. The real anchor is the rhythmic cohesion and tight interplay amongst the trio. Hunter and Mason in particular, seem to have been surgically or alchemically conjoined for the duration of the sessionas if the world is ready for a guitarist who can play the drums at the same time as the guitar and bass.
The approach to composition and improvisation is indicative of Hunter's trio concept; no tune can be envisaged performing with only one spotlight. Solos are organic in every possible understanding of the word, and ideas seemingly permeate throughout the group as they evolve. The tracks build over time, feeling like iconic Charlie Parker solos (one of Hunters key influences), heated up, and then spread over the duration. The compositional effect this fosters never fatigues, rather leans toward subtle and enveloping interplay. Harmonically, Baboon Strength
has strayed away from some of Hunter's earlier jazz dialect and shifts to the language of '80s pop. The chords are understated, but the progressions alluded to are soulfully ingrained.
"Athens" opens strongly with an edgy, siren-like melody over a tight rhythmic pocket, before opening into a swirling chorus section worthy of any rock anthem. The bluesy "A Song For Karen Carpenter" follows, providing an open field for Hunter to stretch his melodic chops. For a musician who has spent the majority of his discography as an eternal self-imposed comper and groove machine, it is a welcome opportunity in which he clearly relishes. Deutsch provides alluringly simple accompaniment, floating among the changes with what is more soundscape than background playing, all the while retaining the ability to flick the switch and produce a searing, filthy solo such as on "Porter Hayes."
While not revolutionary in terms of his discography, Baboon Strength
is an outstandingly listenable snapshot of a potentially great career in progress.