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12.10.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Takehiko Tokiwa
Hunter Season : Guitar phenom Charlie Hunter stops at Kuumbwa this Monday on the 'Baboon Strength' tour.

Happy Hunting

Jazz axe man Charlie Hunter heads to Santa Cruz, his first self-released album in tow.

By Traci Hukill


The opening number on Baboon Strength, the new album from the Charlie Hunter Trio, is a rangy, loose-limbed groove with an otherworldly line floating overhead. While guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Tony Mason lay down the rhythm, keyboardist Erik Deutsch coaxes an alien whine out of his combination Casiotone and Echoplex organ, occasionally leaning up against the listener's tolerance for stray tones. "Athens," Hunter explains on his website, is so named for the city's "horde of excruciatingly grating motor scooters." And yet, like the rest of this album, it's imminently listenable, even fun, as if Hunter and his fellow musicians are loosening up and surrendering to the flow.

"I don't think we were trying," says Hunter, caught between airport and Boston hotel on the eve of a gig last week. "We were trying to play the tunes and groove out and whatever happened, happened.

"This record's all about the groove and the group landscape improvisations rather than lots of little jazzy improvisations," he adds. "The gestures are more kind of large gestures, rather than small, jazzy, linear gestures."

It is a big sound, up-tempo and funky. But Baboon Strength is also Hunter's first self-release, which might explain the album's liberated feel--in spite of the fact that Hunter insists he hasn't felt constrained by his labels (he's recorded prolifically since 1993, several times with Blue Note and often with Ropeadope, among others).

"You know, when you're with a big corporate label, you have to make music that makes sense," he says. "It always made sense at the time when I did it."

On the other hand, he says, "It just doesn't make any sense for someone like me to put records out with a record company anymore, because I sell so few and I might as well eliminate the middleman and sell them myself for less."

Hunter is getting ready to sell quite a few more CDs in the next few months as he, Deutsch and Moran embark on a West Coast tour and a sashay through the heartland before heading to Japan. Here in Santa Cruz he'll get to check in with his luthier, Jeff Traugott, who fashioned his current seven-string guitar.

"He's already working on the next one, so that's all good," says Hunter.


CHARLIE HUNTER TRIO Monday, Dec. 15, at 7 and 9pm at Kuumbwa, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $22 advance/$25 door; www.kuumbwajazz.org or 831.427.2227.


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