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Monday, November 2, 2015

Charlie Hunter Trio – Let The Bells Ring On (Self, 2015) ****

By Chris Haines

Charlie Hunter is a name that tends to be associated with jazz funk, especially his solo albums, as opposed to free jazz, if we’re pigeonholing.  The trio on this album Let The Bells Ring On isn’t suddenly going to make any drastic surprise changes to that, however there is more to this album than at first meets the eye… or ears!  With Bobby Previte (drums), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) and Hunter on guitar there is a real solid feel to the album with ten clearly structured pieces.  The playing is delivered very confidently from the three superb musicians who demonstrate their ability by the space they leave in the music as much as by the notes that they play and how they execute them, which is excellent.  For me Curtis Fowlkes trombone playing is what makes the album and he has a way of making some of the more rigid compositional ideas feel much more relaxed and off the hoof. His tone changes to suit the tracks moving from more mellow timbres to a full on blast of brass.  Charlie Hunter, with his signature seven string guitar, can conjure up fuller sounding textures, but on this album seems to revel more in straight forward guitar work, supporting Fowlkes or taking the lead line himself.  Bobby Previte is solid throughout and exudes an air of confidence in his playing whilst holding the trombone and guitar sounds in his rhythmic accompaniment.

The album starts with ‘Anthem: USA’ a simple and straight backbeat from the drums with punctuating bass pedal from guitar/trombone, before discordant chords from the guitar and low tones from the trombone gradually give way to a slightly freer overlapping dialogue between the two instruments which then comes together for the main anthemic melody.  It’s the first thing you hear, and it’s not straight forward jazz funk, far from it.  The next track ‘These People’ has some nice muted tones from Hunter’s guitar where he plays with the timing, playing just before and after the beat before Fowlkes takes centre stage with a solo that pushes the edges of inside playing containing a few ‘out’ notes.  ‘Pho-Kus-On-Ho-Ho-Kus’ is an excellent piece, including creative and imaginative riffs, a shift of pulse, some great interjections and wonderful solos, with Hunter playing just ‘outside’ at times as well as in.  The title track is a straight forward blues, and even then Fowlkes manages to partially surprise by starting his solo on a note you wouldn’t normally expect.  ‘Vernel’ the penultimate track sounds like a long lost track by the post-rock group Tortoise.

It really is an album that grooves, as one might expect, but it also delivers interesting original melodic ideas as well as well done well-worn formats, which are also good to listen to.  Overall what really makes the album is the sound that the three musicians manage to create together, the combination literally being more than the sum of it’s parts and each players individual tone being a joy to hear.