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Charlie Hunter: Burlington, Vermont, April 24, 2011

Doug Collette By

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Charlie Hunter with Erik Kalb
Club Metronome
Burlington, VT
April 24, 2011

The last time guitarist nonpareil Charlie Hunter came to the greater Burlington area, drummer Erik Kalb also accompanied him—so this recent show was one of the few instances of the idiosyncratic guitarist repeating himself in his last ten years of appearances in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Nevertheless, it was perfectly acceptable to find the duo set up on the tiny stage upstairs from the famous Nectar's club on Main Street, and wholly satisfying to watch and hear them play together again. Clearly, they've nurtured the chemistry they discovered between them, because the virtually uninterrupted ninety minutes of music found them interacting on a level so smooth and natural that it transcended mere practice or even shared history.

Kalb came close to stealing the show—and not just because San Francisco Bay Area native Hunter, sitting down with his seven-string guitar, does nothing dramatic to call attention to himself except in the most low-key manner possible as he descends into what appears to be a trancelike state while his fingers fly up and down and high and low on the fretboard. Kalb exhibited such a light but authoritative touch on his minimal drum kit that there were times, as on Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck," when the rhythm and the melody fused into one.

No big surprise there, though, as Charlie Hunter has made that alchemical action his stock in trade for most of his career. But it's nonetheless startling to watch how he and Kalb can continue so long, playing faultlessly in tandem, without faltering for ideas or otherwise losing their way. It's a mark of that continuity, not to mention their versatility as players, that never once was there a hint of their missing other melody or rhythm instrument players.

It's somewhat of a hide-and-seek game the two musicians played on stage, introducing, abandoning, embroidering and embellishing, then reintroducing themes and tunes in reconstructed form. But due to the invariable groove at the heart of their interaction, it never became a mere intellectual exercise. Not that it ever really could, given Hunter's whoops and laughs, and devilish grins. There was also Kalb's expression of wonderment as he occasionally watched his mentor play solo: these two are indeed kindred spirits.

As is so often the case with Charlie Hunter's performances, his closing on Easter night was both a self-referential statement and an offering of benediction to his audience, sadly numbering just around a hundred in the tiny Metronome space. "Ain't We Got Fun" hearkened to the guitarist's latest recording Public Domain (Spire Artist Media, 2010)—an old standard at first easily recognizable, then not. The encore spoke to Hunter's inherently improvisational, spontaneous nature: when someone called out for The Beatles, Kalb hummed a refrain and seconds later, the two were playing around with "From Me to You." Proof positive it doesn't necessarily take a large audience, but rather a deeply personal exercise in style, to create a memorable live experience.

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