LIVE: The Charlie Hunter Trio @ the Parish Public House, 2/07/15

Review by J Hunter

I checked my archives the other day, and it was over nine years ago that uber-drummer Bobby Previte brought his one-off super group Coalition of the Willing into what was then Red Square. A lot of things have changed since then: The Square is now the Parish Public House, there are chairs and high-tops in the Louisiana-flavored bar/restaurant’s backroom concert space, and Previte no longer wears a peroxide Mohawk. What remained the same on this most recent Saturday night was that Previte still brings all sorts of noise when he gets behind his kit, and Charlie Hunter is still one of the nastiest guitar players on the menu – and, despite yet another impending snowstorm, people packed into the Public House for the chance to see the Charlie Hunter Trio in one of the most intimate spaces in Greater Nippertown.

Now, “Charlie Hunter Trio” is a bit of a misnomer. Given how many times Hunter has rebooted the band’s lineup and instrumental package, it should probably be called “Charlie Hunter PLAYING trio.” That being said, Hunter certainly has a history with his present band mates: In addition to Hunter and Previte’s time in Coalition and Groundtruther, all-world trombonist Curtis Fowlkes appears on Hunter’s delightfully-titled CD Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You You Will Not Be Paid. What’s more, the long tall Fowlkes may have been the inspiration for my favorite tune on that disc, “High Pockets and a Fanny Pack.” Hunter and his partners didn’t play that song at PPH, but that was because they were a little busy.

“We just made a record of this music,” Hunter informed us after the opening tune, an unnamed country blues that let all three players fly their flag. “We’re still learning it…” Then, smiling sheepishly, he added, “Me most of all!” So it would be a new experience for all of us – most notably the young couple sitting next to me, who’d never heard a lick of Hunter’s music and only came to the show after hearing about it on Exit 97.7. While there were more than a few people their age in the club, the crowd was predominantly made up of longtime Hunter fans (including Arch Stanton Quartet guitarist Roger Noyes and Sidd Finch Project drummer Jim Ketterer), some of whom may have been at that Coalition of the Willing show in 2006.

Hunter’s self-deprecating remarks concluded, off we went into 90 minutes of groovealicious goodness, with the guitarist sitting center stage and his compatriots facing him from either side. While Hunter only played “regular” guitar with Coalition, he was working his trademark 7-string guitar/bass hybrid – turned up to the prerequisite 11 – on this evening. The fingerpicking style he’s mastered with his axe added another level of percussion to whatever the band was doing, though goodness knows Previte didn’t need any help keeping the beat alive and kicking. While I still think drummer Scott Amendola is Hunter’s best partner in rhythm, I had forgotten what a great rapport Hunter and Previte shared on that night with Coalition. As with that night, Previte was a show all by himself, taking one in-the-clear drum solo that went from hushed brushes to thunder drums, with everything spectacularly in between; at one point, Previte was hitting accent notes on high hat with his elbow while brushing out the beat. Hunter and Fowlkes just sat back and laughed.

If you saw Fowlkes when he played with Billy Martin’s Wicked Knee at last fall’s Lake George Jazz Weekend, you know the 64-year old New York City native takes no prisoners whatsoever. He likes sharp, clear lines with no sliding or other stereotypical trombone showboating, and his solos hit you like an Anderson Silva counterstrike. Fowlkes can bring the subtlety when the moment calls for it: During one R&B-laced number, Hunter yelled, “Yeahhhhhhh…” when Fowlkes hit one long, low growling note while backing Previte’s solo. Fowlkes did both accents and solos using an old-school plunger mute, but his best moments came when he was unmuted and unbound, filling the club with bursts of light that held equal portions of jazz and blues.

While Hunter told me after the show that the set was all originals, you got the sense early that much of this music came out of jamming on old standards: You got a rock riff here, a snatch of Motown there, all tantalizingly familiar and yet just out of reach as each piece took its own bubbling, bouncing path. There was also a definite “What do we do now?” vibe to the set, as earnest conversation preceded almost every number. “Oh, yeah! Let’s do that one,” Hunter told Fowlkes before a piece definitely influenced by late-’60s R&B.

The schizophrenic “Focus on Ho-Ho-Kus” was the only track that got an introduction, and only so Hunter could let us know that “ASCAP is having a sale on hyphens!” But whether they were playing a countrified waltz, a grooving blues that drove like Marshawn Lynch WOULD have driven, or a reboot of an old Korn tune for the standing ovation-inspired encore, this iteration of the Charlie Hunter Trio was right on point all night long. If the CD this music is on hits just as hard and pleases just as well, I’ll be waiting by the mailbox for its arrival… unless it’s snowing again, of course.

NOTE: Drummer Bobby Previte leads his Voodoo Orchestra North in concert at Club Helsinki in Hudson at 9pm on Friday (February 13) as the explore the music of Miles Davis’ eternal electric jazz-funk masterpiece, Bitches Brew. Tickets are $12.

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