Sitting below the vertiginous shadows tangled in the baked streams of stage lighting, his jaunty gestures provoked by an infamous 8-stringed instrument. The steel strings glimmer amidst a field of heads standing on the polished dance floor at Club Vynyl, located in California’s own West Hollywood. Touring major cities all over the country, guitarist Charlie Hunter continues to formulate distinct compositions merging a divergent array of artistic inspirations evident within the jazz, blues, funk and Latin music scenes.
“In writing my compositions, I am thinking of ideas all the time, in my mind, 24 hours a day ,” he said. “I try to get in two to three hours of practicing on my guitar each day but I also do a lot of composing. I am always thinking of new musical compositions in my head.” Hunter, 33, picked up a guitar at the age of 12 and moved to Brooklyn, NY from San Francisco, Calif. in 1997. Hunter is known for playing an 8-string guitar, which consists of three bass and five guitar strings. Since signing with Blue Note Records in 1995, Hunter has produced several albums under the label. His latest work, entitled Charlie Hunter, features the work of percussionists Stephen Chopek, Robert Perkins and Leon Parker, trombonist Josh Roseman and saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum. The album is followed the earlier recordings of Bing, Bing, Bing, Ready…Set…Shango, Natty Dread and Return of the Candyman.
Hunter has been promoting his latest album through nationwide tours with Chopek and percussionist Chris Lovejoy “I met Chris in the neighborhood,” Hunter said. “Stephen was one of Leon’s students and we played at little bit at a time and he has proven to be quite a find. I wanted this album to be based on certain concepts. I felt with Stephen and Chris I could achieve these ideas with this album and while on tour. I wanted more of a percussion feel and both Stephen and Chris are great musicians, I am digging that deeply. I love that they are both well versed in not only Latin rhythms but also in jazz, funk, Brazilian music, which is want I wanted to expose to listeners on this album.”
Hunter also recently finished a solo project produced by Contra Punto records. This 12-track recording includes both Hunter originals and a handful of jazz standards. Hunter recalled the disparity in studio experiences after recording both albums.
“In recording an album with other artists, there is a lot of give and take,” he said. “With other musicians, you have to get a lot of people together where the communication has to be right on but you have such a powerful sound in the end. With a solo, the easy thing is that it’s just you but you have to make it happen with just you, which can be lonely and difficult at times too.” Although Hunter claimed that touring the country is a constantly exhausting adventure, he has tried to remain consistent in his performances. Hunter also added the live shows are what prove to be moments of intense musical connection that serve as vivid reminders of his life as a musician.
“The connection is hard to put into words,” he said. “It’s like watching a basketball game in it’s most climatic moment where the players know exactly what the other teammates are doing. Then they make the perfect play at the perfect moment. It is such a sublime moment at such an intense level.” Hunter, who has worked with such innovative artists as D’Angelo, hopes to continue collaborating with other musicians who have produced noteworthy music using live instrumentation.
“I would love to work with D’Angelo again,” he said. “I think that he is so musical and I think we really hit it off when recording Voodoo. I would like to work with Mos Def, who I think is really talented. I would also love to do something with Sam Newsome, who I think is brilliant.” In exposing himself to an assorted variety of musical tastes, Hunter has shied away from categorizing his playing through the definitive labels attached to music.
“I think that labels are mostly used for commercial construct,” he said. “In a crude way, I think for some, it tells what music is about and for me, it helps me make the distinction as to where someone is coming from. In a sense, I think it is a devised way of communication.”
Equally significant to Hunter, has been the interaction between himself and his audience. Just as unique as Hunter’s playing, have been his fans. A congregation comprised of particular individuals, many of whom are seen as, hippies, dancers, guitar heads and jazz enthusiasts.
“I think that some people use computer samples in a really hip and artistic way,” he said. “At the same time, it’s an entirely different form of communication. As an audience member apart of a live performance, you are apart of what goes on and have a say as to where the music goes. It is a wonderful form of communication and I think that same kind of humanity is not present with computers. Live performances, like no other, is a two-way street.”
In retrospect, Hunter has examined his perseverance in musical exploration as somewhat of an organic pilgrimage, arriving at his current destination in an artistic evolution.
“Of course music interests are totally subjective and is up to the tastes of the listener,” he said. “In being a listener myself the experience is a voyage. You don’t come out of the box listening Parker and Coltrane, you have to take the steps to get there. I think that the power structures of current corporations try to put out many prefabricated brands of music each year. It is a journey you have to take to get to that next level. Some of these brands may serve as a gateway in getting to the powerful stuff that speaks to the soul. I mean there were certain things that I listened to as a kid and I look back and wonder what was I hearing then. It’s like eating junk food as opposed to eating health food. With junk food of course it tastes good especially when all of that MSG hits you but then you feel bad the rest of the day. With healthy food it tastes great and you always feel good too. I came from the world of jazz where I learned how to improvise and create harmonies while developing my musical approach, which has taught me about so many different disciplines that have made my interest in music a journey.” After concluding a lengthy west coast tour, Hunter is currently in the studio working on his next album, which will feature Chopek, Lovejoy, John Ellis on the tenor saxophone and several guest artists.
As Hunter’s daily mantra has been to remain vigilant in his commitment to the art, he concluded, as this was also his advice to up and coming talents. “Dedication, willingness to die for what it is, is the most important thing,” he said. “There is no room for mediocrity. You may be able to get away with it in other professions where you can be a depressed lawyer or a doctor and you can get work based on other qualifications. But in music you can’t be a depressed artist and get a gig. People don’t like that. Music makes me happy and I think it shows in my playing. The musicianship is a foundation to the music and the instrument is your tool as you must learn the musicianship first.”