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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Anton Hunter - Article XI (Efpi Records, 2018) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Guitarist Anton Hunter’s compositions build, layer by layer, like a solo performer adding instruments on a multitrack in their bedroom. Except here, it’s eleven players recorded live, at the Manchester Jazz Festival on 24 July 2014 and again at London’s Vortex three days later. The effect forces listeners into a patient, meditative mode. Take, for example, “Innards of Atoms”: after washing over you for roughly seven minutes, a brief, free call-and-response section leads into a brassy coda, infused with the rough-edged funkiness of early fusion. Credit here goes to drummer Johnny Hunter and bassist Eero Tikkanen for the rhythm and feel. Meanwhile, the melody sings from the front line of saxophonists Sam Andreae, Simon Prince, Mette Rasmussen, and Cath Roberts, trumpeters Graham South and Nick Walters, and trombonists Seth Bennett and Richard Foote.

Following the mesmerizing “C# Makes the World a Better Place,” the group launches into what’s essentially the title track, “Peaceful Assembly.” In the album notes, Hunter includes the group’s namesake, Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests.” The resulting ode is a literal assembly of ideas, not to mention a really excellent performance, showcasing the Hunter’s somewhat cinematic approach to composition and conducting. Horns are layered in a deep depth of field, with each player crisp, leaving you to choose whether to zoom in on a particular sound or let the whole picture play. Just as suddenly, the horns will merge into a gorgeous melody, gradually pulling focus from one soundscape to another.

The inherent push-pull tension of composition and improvisation, and all the nebulous space between, give “I Almost Told You” a dramatic undercurrent. As Hunter spreads the melody across about half of the group, the solos traded in the latter half keep hinting at the resolution the title indicates will never come. The opening of “Not the Kind of Jazz You Like” provides a bit of clarity, as Hunter separates the horns into tonal layers, with Roberts leading Bennett and Foote in a swinging melody, as Andreae, Rasmussen, and Prince stack one set of blocky chords alongside South, Walters, and Hunter’s stack. It’s gorgeous, reminding me in many ways of David Murray’s big band take on his own “Dewey’s Circle.” The result is very much the kind of jazz I (and probably you) like, as, much like Murray’s big band, each member not only shines but clearly contributes to the whole. In jumping from duos and trios up to a big band, Hunter’s made a grand leap forward on Article XI.