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Rockin' in the Free Jazz World 

click to enlarge art41_music_charlie_hunter_100.jpg

Charlie Hunter is a phenomenal guitarist with the distinctive ability to play fluid bass lines with his thumbs while picking complex leads and rhythms on a custom seven-string guitar.

When his new trio took the stage at Alley Katz Thursday, Oct. 5, at 9:30 p.m., it was 90 minutes after the advertised start. But all memory of the delay was swept away by a marathon, two-and-a-half-hour, two-set performance that kept the audience — including many local musicians — spellbound.

The band drew much of its material from its recent "Copperopolis" CD, with detours into "Amazing Grace" and kaleidoscopic snippets of other songs, delivering a performance that revolved around structured free associations and the many ways of subdividing a backbeat.

Hunter never lingers with one idea long, ranging through tones and textures electronically expanded by the jumble of pedals and effect boxes he controls with his feet. His fondness for the wah-wah gives his solos a classic '60s patina.

Hunter's sharply focused attack is the balance point for the contrasting styles of his new sidemen, the extroverted drummer Simon Lott and poetic keyboard player Erik Deutsch. Lott attacked the set with loose-limbed enthusiasm, smiling with surprise when his sticks delivered an unpredictable bit of cleverness from the rhythmic cascade.

Deutsch stays more in the shadows, adding melodic touches and seemingly floating above, until you notice it's he, not Hunter, playing the current hard-edged, neo-psychedelic solo.

CDs don't adequately capture the trio's gritty, explosive sound. On his Web site Hunter says his model is Rahsaan Roland Kirk, with whom he shares simultaneous multi-instrumentalism (Kirk played three saxes at once), and on a deeper level, the ability to mix accessible song forms with dissonance and free form experimentation.

Like Medeski, Martin and Wood (with whom they are often lumped in the semi-meaningless genre "Acid Jazz"), Hunter's trio is a barnstorming band, road-warrioring around the country, sweeping into nightly gigs at funky, intimate clubs like Alley Katz. In a just world they'd play a larger venue, but the unfairness makes for a killer show. S



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