Charlie Hunter Quartet

Songs From the Analog Playground (Blue Note)

In a culture so besieged by the conflict between art and commerce, it's perhaps natural that the use of pop idioms is disparaged by the critical elite, anxious to protect their canon from dilution. Charlie Hunter has dodged such dismissive darts aimed at his eclectic jazz treatments, which have spanned the musical map from Bob Marley to Brian Wilson to Nirvana, bridging boundaries like a diplomat and liaison for the Blank Generation.

An archetypal iconoclast, Hunter has a colorful history that includes teenage guitar lessons from Joe Satriani, a stint with Michael Franti's hip-hop group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and participation in the jazz outfit T.J. Kirk, whose moniker perfectly captures Hunter's aesthetic -- combining pop elements such as William Shatner's Star Trek character with the names of musical heroes, Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Roland Kirk.

No discussion of Hunter is complete without mention of his prodigious technical proficiency. The thirtysomething former San Francisco Bay Area resident uses a custom-made eight-string bass/guitar with which he plays both rhythm and lead. Hunter picks bass notes with his right thumb, fretting them with his left index finger, while at the same time finger-picking guitar chords and single notes with his right hand's remaining four digits as he frets with his left hand's other three fingers.

Charlie Hunter: Eight-string bass/guitar master.
Charlie Hunter: Eight-string bass/guitar master.

On his latest album, Songs From the Analog Playground, Hunter continues to shed styles faster than a runway model. Employing a rotating set of singers, it's his first release to feature vocals, and is a bold, accurate stab at a larger audience. From the funky cover of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Mighty, Mighty" featuring Galactic vocalist Theryl Be'Clouret to the bossa nova take on Bryan Ferry's "More Than This," to the slow, Sunday morning jazz of "Creole" with Mos Def, the album establishes a dialogue entreating the listener to imagine jazz as something other than the province of effete snobs in turtlenecks and smoking jackets.

 
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