Charlie Hunter and his latest Trio brought the rock star flavor back to jazz in Richmond the other night. Despite a particularly vicious bout with tendonitis, Hunter displayed no signs of discomfort. It wasn’t until after completing the two sets of music that Hunter applied ice to his invisible wound, enjoying Black Sabbath’s "Sweet Leaf" over the speakers.
Prior to the ice down, the evening involved Hunter and his two newest trio members spouting out edgy funk for a mostly youthful crowd. In the center, seated in-between drummer Simon Lott (Skerik’s Maelstrom Trio, Renwicke) and keyboard master Erik Deutsch (The Motet, Fat Mama), Hunter fingered through some neck-nodding riffs and full-body grooves. Though the three are relatively new to each other, they played like seasoned veterans with a colorful history and comfortable rapport, collectively improvising while loosely sticking to a setlist.
Opening with "Blue Sock" from Hunter’s latest Ropeadope release Copperopolis, the trio vacillated between a deep bass groove and spooky, spacey Fender Rhodes tones. Switching drumbeats, Lott created a rough contour for the 8-stringed guitarist’s melodies and low-end while Deutsch augmented his sounds with pedals and electronic effects to create an eerie moaning. Hunter’s ability to make performing on his custom instrument look simple is only one aspect of his professionalism, as he played the strings as though he had four hands.
Lott figuratively came forward with a drum fill to segue into the next composition, and he shifted from one drumming style to the next with a relaxed ease. From African to Cuban and early American military, all the influences folded into each other. His delicate touch added a sensuous vibe, while Hunter, easing his fingers from one string to the next, created an even dissonance.
The obligatory call for "Freebird" came, and the trio went into a dirty south, stripped down jam with "Cueball Bobbin’. . ." Deutsch stepped forward with some soulful piano meanderings, ranging from an isolated, eerie tone to a thick, chunky set of chords. As he faded into the background, Lott faded back into the forefront, filling his solo with pseudo stops and a shift between soft and floating to a precise and deliberate method of striking – all while Hunter maintained a complicated attachment to the head. The three returned to limited chaos with waves coming in and out. Hunter faded in with his low-end while Lott eased the transition with bells.
Recalling Southern Baptist traditional spirituals, almost at the point of "Amazing Grace," the following piece was a prayerful moment involving a soulful attitude, with Hunter’s sluggish playing just behind the beat. He donned his familiar facial expressions, biting his lip and furrowing his brows, as he channeled the styling of Stevie Ray Vaughan. When they began "Copperopolis," Deutsch mimicked the melodica sound once used by John Ellis on his Casio keyboard. The sound was almost that of a child’s plastic toy trumpet, replete with a grainy, off-key quality. The three maintained a steady groove, moving toward a reckless set closer.
As the slightly-shorter second set began, Hunter scraped his strings for that metallic grisly sound while Deutsch played some high-pitched voodoo. Lott settled on a hopscotch rhythm and the boys ventured down the dirty road full-throttle, Hunter scripting a western-influenced groove while Deutsch maintained an Eastern flavor. The musicians returned to the stage amid the crowd’s cheers for a brief encore (complying with the venue’s strict time limitations). After a subtle "Tears in Heaven" tease, the boys played a grinding, slow blues number with an easy, carefree feeling until the music faded into waves. Then the house lights came on and Led Zeppelin’s "The Crunge" over the loudspeakers signaled that the intimate evening had come to a smooth finish.
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