Charlie Hunter finds new territory to explore

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

Plenty of pianists, a spate of singers, a host of horns – but no jazz guitarists are on the schedule on the Jazz Aspen June Festival. So we turn to the CD stacks, where some interesting things are turning up in the jazz guitar field.Charlie Hunter Quintet, “Right Now Move”produced by Hunter and Scotty Hard (Ropeadope)Charlie Hunter has combined an unusual instrument – an eight-string guitar, on which he plays bass notes, chords and single-note leads – with a knack for inventive, and ever-shifting accompaniment. Hunter has recorded with a two-saxophone quartet, in a duo with percussion, in a combo that featured vibes and percussion, and with a cast of vocalists. On “Right Now Move,” Hunter assembles a typically skewed supporting cast: trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, chromatic harmonica player Gregoire Maret, saxophonist John Ellis and drummer Derrek Phillips. As usual, Hunter coaxes something new and notable out of the assemblage. “Right Now Move” opens with the Brazilian-flavored “Mestre Tata,” and moves into the slow funk of “Oakland,” which gets several twists from the unexpected sounds of harmonica and trombone. Those instruments come together best in the swinging “Whoop-Ass.” “20th Congress,” notes Hunter, began as a tribute to groove keyboardist Robert Walter, but the tune turns into an updated, funky take on Dixieland, with Ellis moving to bass clarinet.Hunter continues to show an ability to move forward and continue finding worthwhile places to explore.Bill Frisell, “The Intercontinentals”produced by Lee Townsend (Nonesuch)For a decade, Bill Frisell has been exploring a space where jazz meets country and folk, with outstanding results. Most notable was “Nashville,” which earned the guitarist the 1998 Album of the Year award from Downbeat magazine. Frisell has been prolific in his pursuit, releasing two handfuls of albums in the last few years, all touching more or less on the same theme.With “The Intercontinentals,” Frisell takes a step outside the country-jazz realm. The combo comprises musicians from four continents: Brazilian singer-guitarist-percussionist Vinicius Cantuaria, Greek-Macedonian string player Christos Govetas, and Malian percussionist Sidiki Camara join former Denverite Frisell and fellow Americans, pedal steel guitarist Greg Liesz and violinist Jenny Scheinman. There’s a U.N. flavor to the music. Camara’s singing on “Baba Drame” is unmistakably African, as Scheinman plays a European-derived violin melody. “For Christos” echoes Middle European classical music. Even when the combo strips down to the three Americans for “Anywhere Road,” there is an exotic feel.Still, it is all very recognizable as Frisell music. “Los Intercontinentals” is marked by Frisell’s slow pacing and wide-open spaces between the sounds.Joel Harrison, “Free Country”produced by Harrison (ACT)Like Frisell, Joel Harrison introduces jazz to country on “Free Country.” But where Frisell pretty much invented a style of guitar that blended jazz and country elements, Harrison goes a different route. “Free Country” takes country and folk classics – from Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues” to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” to traditional spirituals “Twelve Gates to the City” and “Lone Pilgrim” – and makes jazz of them. It might have turned goofy, but Harrison isn’t up to gimmicks here. Harrison is uncompromising in putting an avant-jazz take on the material, adding string arrangements and accordion to “Wayfaring Stranger,” and getting all spacey on the guitar intro to an instrumental version of “This Land Is Your Land.”And for getting the public’s attention, it’s hard to beat having Norah Jones sing on a pair of tunes: “I Walk the Line” and “Tennessee Waltz.”The John Scofield Band, “Up All Night”produced by Scofield, Joe Ferla, Avi Bortnick and Jason Olaine (Verve)Ever since he recorded the 1999 landmark album “A Go Go” with keyboard trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, guitarist John Scofield has been firmly committed to the groove style. But it looks more and more like “A Go Go” was the high point. Sco’ has collaborated with a shifting array of groove, funk and jam players since, and nothing has come close.”Up All Night” is the second recording from the Scofield Band. Like the band’s debut, last year’s “uberjam,” it is a modestly interesting exercise in sound textures, samples, hip-hop and funk rhythms. For at least the first three tunes on “Up All Night,” it almost sounds as if the quartet – rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick, bassist Andy Hess, and drummer Adam Deitch – are just waking up. There are decent moments of playing, but the haphazard compositional element makes it seem like they’re just warming up, fooling around with noise. They’ve crossed the line from laid-back to lazy.Here’s a vote that Scofield reunite with MM&W.Pat Metheny, “One Quiet Night”produced by Metheny (Warner Bros.)Oft-times the deepest music, like the best food, is made in the simplest settings, with the simplest ingredients. One night – Nov. 24, 2001, to be exact – Pat Metheny went into his home studio with a recently acquired baritone guitar, tuned to the unusual “Nashville” tuning (A D G C E A, if you must know), set up one microphone and turned on the recorder. A year later, he did another recording session in the same manner. That’s all it took to make “One Quiet Night,” and it’s lovely, intimate music. Most of the tunes are from Metheny’s back catalog; there are also a few new compositions, and covers of the Gerry & the Pacemakers hit “Ferry `cross the Mersey” and Keith Jarrett’s “My Song.”George Barnes Quartet, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”produced by Larry Cummings (Acoustic Disc)Another score from David Grisman’s Acoustic Disc, and their Archive Series. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is the last recorded performance of guitarist George Barnes, capturing a 1977 concert at the Willows Theater in Concord, Calif. Barnes – playing here with bassist Dean Reilly, drummer Benny Barth and second guitarist Duncan James – proves himself a master of old-school guitar swing. The set is heavy on standards: Gershwin, the Ellington title track, Jerome Kern. But Barnes’ playing breathes life into all of it, including a take on “Theme from The Flintstones.”Charlie Christian, “The Genius of the Electric Guitar”(Columbia/Legacy)Oklahoma product Charlie Christian wasn’t the first electric jazz guitarist, isn’t the most famous and, because he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25, in 1942, had a severely limited output. It didn’t stop him from being considered the seminal figure of electric jazz guitar; in the notes to this extensive, four-CD package, Vernon Reid calls Christian “The Father.””The Genius of the Electric Guitar” includes rehearsals, outtakes and a lengthy jam session as well as the numerous recordings Christian made with Benny Goodman’s sextet and orchestra. Listeners accustomed to hearing electric guitar as a showy, up-front instrument are in for a surprise from this pre-rock ‘n’ roll way of playing.


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