Charlie Hunter Trio

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After a quartet album with guest vocalists to end his run at Blue Note, then a quintet album for his Ropeadope debut, Charlie Hunter has scaled back down to a trio, retaining drummer Derrek Phillips and saxman John Ellis from the last album. This is arguably the best way to hear Charlie Hunter: he's got a melodic foil to play off of, and someone supplying a beat, but not so many things going on that you can't concentrate on what he's doing. And it's well worth concentrating on because this man is simply amazing. He plays lead lines and chords while serving up funky basslines simultaneously on his eight-string guitar. Most folks would swear it's either two people or overdubbing, but it isn't. But it's not just about technique: Charlie Hunter makes great music, and seems to have found a collaborator in John Ellis. In addition to his excellent sax playing, Ellis contributed three compositions and collaborated with Hunter on two more (a first on a Charlie Hunter album). He also takes a lovely flute solo on "Darkly," plays some nice bass clarinet on "My Son the Hurricane," and supplies a full horn section of sax, flute, and bass clarinet on Abdullah Ibrahim's "Soweto" (here retitled "Soweto's Where It's At"). That track also features some beautiful and amazing soloing by Hunter. Then they turn right around and get kind of nasty on "Running in Fear from Imaginary Assailants," with Hunter's distorto-wah tone and Ellis' multiphonics. Derrek Phillips' drumming is tasteful and supportive, even on his excellent, slow melodic solo on "Darkly." The songs are totally accessible, but there's enough action in the solos and interplay to keep the real music freaks interested. Charlie Hunter has made a bunch of really good records, and this is one of his best.

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