Game Six of the NLCS was on the big screen in the bar of the VanDyck's sold-out concert space‚ but I was too distracted to pay any attention to it. My brain was in Emergency Racking Mode‚ and it was all Charlie Hunter's fault. In the middle of this marvelous set of scorching trio funk/rock/jazz‚ he'd pulled out this sensational‚ slow‚ blues-soaked take on an old‚ old standard… and I couldn't for the life of me think of the title! My photographer Dr. Drezj was drawing a blank too‚ as was Rudy Lu‚ a colleague from another web site we all work for. Thankfully‚ Hunter took pity on us near the end of the piece‚ singing some of the lyrics off-mic:
"The rich… get… rich…/And… the poor… get… poor-er…"
Yup‚ you got it. Charlie Hunter -- one the most unique‚ genre-bending musicians on the planet -- was playing "Ain't We Got Fun‚" one of the best-known songs of the Great Depression. Then again‚ it is some of his "newest" material: Public Domain (the follow-up to Hunter's first self-released disc Gentlemen‚ I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid) is a bewitching disc of… well‚ of music that's available under public domain‚ all of which Hunter found with ample assistance from his 93-year old grandfather Sidney Greenman. The disc also features the Mexican folk song "Cielito Lindo‚" which people of a certain age would recognize as the adopted song of the Frito Bandito! (Ahh‚ for those Mad Men-era days when Madison Avenue didn't have to worry about little things like racism and perpetrating stereotypes…)
Public is a solo-guitar date -- or solo guitar/bass‚ to be precise‚ since Hunter provides both sounds on his Swiss Army knife-like 7-string axe. But although Hunter opened "Cielito" in the clear ("I got it for a minute‚" he instructed Eric Kalb‚ the drummer on Gentlemen)‚ it eventually got a full-band ass-whipping‚ folding it into a 90-minute date that went straight for your mojo and proceeded to hang out. Except for "Cielito" and the funkified title track from Gentlemen‚ the set went from song to song without any introductions. Of course‚ introducing every song might have gotten painful‚ as Hunter had no mic of his own‚ and had to shout what little he did say to us.
It would be easy to dismiss Hunter's instrument as a gadget or a gimmick‚ and I'm sure there are jazz-guitar traditionalists who take great pains to do just that; I know this because one of them was sitting at the table next to me‚ working hard at looking bored while the rest of the house was gobbling everything Hunter served up. The thing is‚ maintaining both the guitar and the bass gives Hunter's solo lines tremendous focus‚ making them less of a star turn and more of a logical extension of whatever he's playing. Speaking of traditions‚ Kalb's T-Rex-big sound follows faithfully in the footsteps of Jay Lane and Scott Amendola‚ two other drummers who've made the ground shake for Hunter. As such‚ if Hunter's snaking groove didn't get you‚ Kalb's booming beat did.
The surprise of the night was horn player Mike Williams‚ who played solo and support on bass trumpet. Don't feel left out if you've never heard of the instrument‚ because (including Rudy and Dr. Drezj) that makes four of us. It looks like a French horn‚ sounds like a trombone without the accuracy issues‚ and it brought depth to Hunter's foil that a sax or a "normal" trumpet wouldn't have provided. That trombone quality made the Public material sound properly Old School‚ but Williams also brought some hard-bop improvisations that toughened up the rest of the set just that much more.
So there it was: Charlie Hunter played hot & nasty in an 80-seat club‚ the Giants win the pennant (Where have I heard that before…)‚ and I could stop racking my brain before I pulled something vital. It was a win-win-win for everybody… everybody but the twit who must have given himself a headache trying not to act impressed. Well‚ you can't win 'em all‚ especially when they won't admit they lost.