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Charlie Hunter: Public Domain

John Kelman By

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There's no particular insight in the suggestion that most musicians lay their musical lives bare through their recorded work: near-instantaneous, fully formed leaps into greatness for some; more gradual upwards curves for others; and for all, even the occasional misstep. Still, there are times when it seems as though a little discretion would go a long way. Amongst endless reissues fattened out with often superfluous bonus material and new releases from promising young artists not yet ready to make the leap into leadership, Charlie Hunter has always stood out as an exception. His debut as a leader—Charlie Hunter Trio (Prawn Song, 1994)—thankfully suffered from poor distribution, so that when he released Bing, Bing, Bing! (Blue Note, 1995) a year later, the sometimes eight-, but more likely these days seven-string guitarist was ready. Between his own work and that of the weird, whacky and wonderful T.J. Kirk, Hunter's unique ability to not just self-accompany à la Joe Pass, but to actually sound like multiple independent musicians—on an instrument that combines the low end of a bass guitar with the high end of a regular one—was, and remains, unparalleled.

Most musicians hone their craft, becoming increasingly sophisticated; instead, Hunter has done virtually everything he could do trim things down to their barest essentials, his last group record, Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid (Spire Artists, 2010) even abandoning stereo for a "glorious" monophonic, though no less high fidelity, sound. Public Domain pares things down even further: like Gentlemen, a mono recording made live with no overdubs; but this time no editing, and by choosing material from, as the title suggests, the public domain, there's no issue of royalties either. Hunter's first all-solo set since the limited-release Solo Eight-String Guitar (Contra Punto, 2000), it's as DIY as a CD can be.

Eschewing effects, Hunter's brief set breathes fresh life into well-worn chestnuts like "Danny Boy" (given a gospel treatment) and "Ain't We Got Fun" (played with a decidedly blue tinge), and songs unknown by name, perhaps, but almost Jungian in their inherent familiarity. As impressive as Hunter's playing is—the propulsive "Alexander's Ragtime Band" truly sounding like, well, a bandPublic Domain greatest appeal is Hunter's absolute avoidance of "look at me" pyrotechnics, barring brief flickers, like his momentary flash of bebop brilliance on "How You Gonna Keep Em Down on the Farm?"

It's more than enough to deliver an organic recording of remarkable forward and backward-looking authenticity; there's no need to do more to draw attention to the fact that few can play with Hunter's degree of instrumental acumen, interpretive trust, unfailing spontaneity, and conceptual independence. Hunter goes, instead, for feel—letting the songs and reverent but imaginative performances speak for themselves. Dedicated to bluesman Blind Blake, unsung acoustic guitar great Joseph Spence, jazz master Joe Pass, teacher/theoretician Ted Greene, and tap-meister Tuck Andress, with only Andress still amongst the living, it's almost certain that if the others were still around and hearing Public Domain, they'd be dedicating their albums to Hunter, a true original.

Track Listing: Ain't We Got Fun; Alexander's Ragtime Band; Avalon; Cielito Lindo; Danny Boy; Low Bridge Song (15 Miles on the Erie Canal); Indiana; Limehouse Blues; How You Gonna Keep Em Down on the Farm?; Meet Me in St. Louis; St. Louis Blues.

Personnel: Charlie Hunter: 7-string guitar.

Title: Public Domain | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Self Produced


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