Charlie Hunter / Charlie Hunter Trio

Copperopolis

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AllMusic Review by

Longtime Charlie Hunter associates John Ellis (reeds and keys) and drummer Derrek Phillips were soon to leave the fold after the recording of this session, but there is no sign of undue tension in this typically impressive set. The proceedings kick off with the hard rocking "Cueball Bobbin'...," where Ellis switches from keys to sax and back as Hunter rips into some of his hardest rocking riffs, weaving around the other instruments like a prizefighter taunting his opponent. If nothing else quite matches the driving intensity of that track, the rest is immensely enjoyable jazz-rock fusion that plays far more to the jazz side of that equation. The disc was recorded in New Orleans, which might account for the spooky second-line rhythm of "Swamba Redux," a taut concoction that features Ellis' melodica on the opening lines, followed by his impassioned tenor blowing. These three play together with a loose precision that's both slippery and rugged, finding a groove and riding it on material that slides through surprises and changes but never seems showy for the sake of it. The trio pushes into minor-key avant-garde territory on the opening of the title track, before settling into a dark bluesy shuffle somewhat like Miles Davis' work with John McLaughlin. When Ellis blows dirty sax against Hunter's growling tremolo guitar lines, the tune takes off to the stratosphere. It's one of the moments that, even at close to six minutes, fades out too soon. Co-producers Hunter and Chris Finney often isolate the guitar in one speaker and the sax in the other, which provides a live feel and a vivid tension between the two instruments. The portentously titled "A Street Fight Could Break Out" is a surprisingly jaunty side trip; its walking, finger-popping bassline provides some of the album's lighter moments. The closing take on Thelonious Monk's "Think of One," the album's sole cover, is transformed by more second-line drumming and an Ellis tenor solo that sizzles. Most impressive, though, is how the three members play off and respond to each other, with nobody, even Hunter, stealing the spotlight on a disc that keeps revealing new twists. If this is to be the final bow of this configuration, at least the bandmembers leave on top.

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