The only thing predictable about Charlie Hunter's visits to Vermont is their regularity. He has made an appearance in the Green Mountains virtually every year for more than a decade and his March 29th show at Higher Ground hearkened back to one of his earliest.
In support of his Duo album in 1999‚ the Bay area native played the club's Winooski location with drummer Adam Cruz. The twosome reminded not only how difficult it is to play music well but how much fun it can be for both performer and audience. Hunter and Erik Kalb illustrated those same virtues in the Showcase Lounge‚ mixing selections from Charlie's latest recording Baboon Strength with some choice covers. If any of the hundred or so in attendance closed their eyes at any point‚ they might well have imagined a four-piece band onstage.
It's something of a cliché to talk about telepathic communication between musicians‚ but how else to describe the split second intuition that allowed the drummer to finish a melodic phrase in rhythm -- and vice versa -- regularly throughout the two sets? Only the most rabid Hunterheads wouldn't admit Charlie's partner is just about as skilled as he is: it was fascinating to watch as Kalb changed up beats‚ using his whole kit as well as altering his grip on the sticks and even putting an elbow down on the snare to bend a note at one point. He played the whole melody of "Ain't She Sweet" right after Hunter completed his run through of the standard.
No one enjoyed watching Erik more than Charlie‚ who was whooping it up early in the set and intermittently through the night. Whether or not the guitarist was paying attention to his seven-string instrument or his partner though‚ the lightning speed at which he alternates high or low notes was remarkable‚ all the more so because the former rang and the latter resounded with the utmost authority. The man loves to play with a progression almost as if to tease himself and the audience‚ so that when the recognition of a tune like "Spoonful" arrives‚ it's all the more delicious.
If‚ on the one hand‚ it's a shame Charlie Hunter doesn't draw bigger crowds‚ it was a special pleasure indeed to share the small room with an intimate group equally attentive and appreciative. Few standing ovations‚ not to mention encores‚ are truly deserved‚ but that was surely the case this Sunday night and the duo responded in kind‚ with a pair of numbers (including a witty "Hungry Like the Wolf") wherein they were as visibly moved as their listeners.