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Charlie Hunter, Marc Ribot, Eddie Palmieri / Brian Lynch, Dafnis Prieto, Billy Martin, Randy Sandke, Billy Bang, Bennie Maupin and Arturo Sandoval

Martin Longley By

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Charlie Hunter/Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog

Sullivan Hall

April 17 & 23, 2008

Before beginning his solo career, Charlie Hunter used to play guitar for The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, an early vehicle for Michael Franti's uncompromising rap outpourings. But Hunter's ultimate destiny was to re-invent himself as a jazz artist, neatly coinciding with the rise of the jam band phenomenon and signing up to Blue Note for most of the 1990s. A mere six strings were never sufficient for Charlie. From very early in his development he's always been magnetized by the bass-note potentialities of the guitar, first extending his reach to seven strings, then eight, and lately back down to seven. It's interesting that Hunter's trio also includes keyboardist Erik Deutsch, who mostly operates in the organ zone, as Hunter long appeared to be concerned with aping a Hammond sound, using a whirring Leslie speaker in conjunction with split-output bass-treble strings.

The trio is completed by drummer Tony Mason, and Hunter's current set is perched between taut funk grooves, caustic blues distortion and even a healthy degree of post-Wes Montgomery smoothness. He's keen to please many different camps, and a gig down at Sullivan Hall, in Greenwich Village, generally tends to lead towards a melting intensity. There's something about this joint (formerly The Lion's Den) that encourages abandon, and its whomping sound system is an important element, along with a regular audience that always prefers dancing to rigid contemplation. Hunter often enters into a private zone of concentration, grimacing threateningly as he pours out another extended solo, lending equal importance to detailed picking and funky chording, often simultaneously.

Demonstrating how far the electric guitar can be bent in the name of jazz, Marc Ribot continues his all- conquering mission of mayhem with Ceramic Dog, a three-piece combo who are very much angled towards the kiln-cratered face of rock. This is the band where Ribot reminds everyone that, besides being a highly sensitive acoustic picker, he's also capable of some of the most ragingly extreme electric onslaughts, splicing tight riffing constructions onto improvisatory freak-outs. Never has a seated axeman rocked so monstrously. Drummer Ches Smith throws himself into the fray with complete trance-like abandon, whilst bassist and Moogman Shahzad Ismaily gores out his brutalist subterranean frequencies. They even encore with "(Break On Through) To The Other Side," The Doors interpreted in a typically serrated Ceramic way. It's another searing night down at Sullivan Hall...

Eddie Palmieri/Brian Lynch Project

Iridium

April 24, 2008

Dafnis Prieto/Billy Martin

Merkin Hall

April 28, 2008

In the space of a few days, Cuban drummer (and now long-serving New York resident) Dafnis Prieto displayed two very different facets of his playing. First off, he was stoking behind, and often in front of, pianist Eddie Palmieri and trumpeter Brian Lynch, during their Iridium residency, pushing the contents of recent album Simpatico. The joint bandleaders have been working together for around two decades, but this is apparently the first time that they've crafted a fully-integrated (and democratic) fusion of Palmieri's signature style with a more mainline jazz vocabulary. The pianist has most of his accustomed cerebro-salsa trappings held at bay for much of the set, but Prieto is here to enforce a rotary Latin intricacy whilst Lynch spouts out glimmering clouds of golden-dusted solo motes.

Days later, Prieto is providing half of a drumming double bill at Merkin Hall, with Billy Martin, who's normally found beside John Medeski and Chris Wood. In Prieto's own work, any stylistic divisions are even harder to disentangle, but why would the listener need to perform such a task anyway? Here, he's leading the Absolute Quintet, the expected relationship between the players slightly skewed due to the presence of Dana Leong, who hops between an unlikely twin-prong of cello and trombone, thereby tipping the entire balance of the band with each change. When brutalising his cello, Leong is part bassist, part guitar soloist, performing with a crazed intensity that does much to lift the energy levels of the whole quintet. He'll be forming a violent string section with violinist Ilmar Gavilan, but switching to trombone, he'll then make an alliance with saxophonist John Beaty. These new pieces are partly inspired by the string-based danzon style of Cuba. Prieto too is a blur of expressive detail, though the Merkin acoustics are not at their best when entertaining a raucous drum set, and the entire band's volume levels are boosted way too high for the size of the hall.

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