Charlie Hunter Trio – Mutant Axe

Charlie Hunter has this eccentric modified guitar and an amazing way of playing it. He’s put eight-strings on it and covers both the bass and melody lines, like he has three hands. Guitar players are wowed by the axe and the technique. Milo Miles, writing for Salon.com does a good job of covering Hunter in Riffs from a Mutant Axe.

For the non-playing listeners, the Trio’s inventiveness comes through. This is hard-edged bebop musicality, the type of jazz that pop music fans can’t stand. About 50 years ago, Chuck Berry in his timeless hit “Rock ‘n Roll Music” stated pop music’s critique, “Got nothing against modern jazz, ’til they play it too darned fast, and loose the beauty of the melody, til it sounds like just like a symphony.” That’s why Chuck and most of the world likes “Rock ‘n Roll Music… it has a back beat you just can’t loose it”.

Interesting that Chuck slags symphonic music along with “modern” jazz. “Loosing it” is the issue. Eighty years ago it was Ella Fitzgerald fronting the Chick Webb band, the real Kings of Swing who stated, “Don’t give me no symphony … give me a swing song and let me dance!”

The issue with her and with Chuck and with most people is that they want music to clearly indicate the response it desires. If it’s dance music, it should compel them to dance, fast or slow. But what do you do with sit-down music?

Symphonic music and bebop jazz have a similar response problem — you’re suppose to follow it and marvel at it. Sometimes you just might not be up for it. I imagine most people, most of the time, are thinking about something else when appearing to be immersed in these two musical forms.

With live symphonic music, you’re dressed up, sitting down in a large respectful audience, watching the string player’s bows go up and down, the conductors arms wave. Hopefully you’re remembering meaningful life moments, perhaps triggered by the music’s emotional cues, but I suspect many thoughts are more strategic, did I confirm the after-concert arrangements? did I give the baby-sitter my cell phone number? Is my cell phone really turned off? Will I have to get gas after? Will so and so be there? I’ve got a mess to clean up when I get back to the office. When’s this going to end?

In the old bebop days, at a beat club, you’d smoke to the music, you’d bob your head up and down, move from table to table, shouting in friend’s ears, go out in the back alley to get high, admire pretty girls or laugh at jerky guys, catch the eye of the waitress for a refill on your drink. You might think of the right words to describe the performance of each player, maybe shout encouragingly during a soloist’s chorus, maybe feel so charged up by the “too darned fast” rhythms that you think about splashing paint on canvas and become a popular artist.

Nowadays, in a Jazz club, you can’t smoke, you can’t afford to drink more than the required minimum, you’re packed in so tight, you really can’t move around, no one wants to get high, no one cares about descriptions of jazz performances and you know you’re not going to get anywhere by splashing paint. You sit sipping the melting ice from the bottom of what’s left of your drink. You can watch the musicians, but they’re usually sweating, grimacing, not much to look at and if you shout out, you might get bounced.

In the early ’90s San Francisco, a young hipster crowd shuffled between Charlie Hunter Trio at Elbow Room and Braun Fellinis at The Kennel Club. For an old guy, it was a curious delight, an actual revival of bebop, with young players and audience, just as the original bebop days of the early ’50s, dressed in black, smoking, chatting, sitting with bobbing heads in front of powerful young players squeaking, squawking over drums of fury.

While both trios’ saxophonists — David Boyce in the Braun Fellinis and Dave Ellis in Charlie Hunter Trio — reached back for Sonny Rollins, the trios, did what jazz players always do, they absorbed and re-interrupted elements of current pop music transmuting them into the Jazz stream. For these trios, for the ’90s, the pop elements were Hip Hop, Nirvana and Jam Band Rock.

Members of the Charlie Hunter Trio and the the Braun Fellinis spent time in groups organized by Michael Frante. Braun Fellini’s leader and drummer, Kevin Cearns was in Frante’s Beatnigs, Charlie Hunter and saxophonist, Dave Ellis were with Frante’s Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy. Dave Ellis did a jam band rock tour with Bob Weir ‘s Ratdog.

Charlie Hunter Trio now comes to New York, not as young turks playing to newly minted jazz hipsters, the’re now solid, mid-career jazz artists and as such, appearing twice a night before mature jazz afficiandos at New York’s Jazz Standard, on East 27th, September 7 – 10th.

Here’s two MP3s by the Charlie Hunter Trio:

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