Review by Wade Vonasek
On the new release Mistico, Charlie Hunter has revamped his trio, featuring new drummer Simon Lott and keyboardist Erik Deutsch, whose full-time keys have replaced the saxophone of previous incarnations. And with his new line-up, it is becoming apparent that Charlie Hunter can rock. The jazz roots are still there, but Mistico offers a funkier, edgier Hunter.
Though Hunter has been slowly veering away from a straight jazz sound, the more rockin’ sound can also be partly attributed to the new line up. Drummer Lott plays with a heavier feel than many jazz drummers, and the addition of Deutsch on keys brings a lot of touches that don’t necessarily jump out at the listener all the time, but that support Hunter’s guitar parts admirably, bringing a more full, beefy sound.
Proof of this theory lies in tracks like “Balls,” where a strong bass drum and sustaining keys underneath Hunter’s bluesy guitar part make the song sound “big” sonically; “Special Shirt,” with its vicious wah guitar and rock n’ roll-ish leads, solid drums and busy, yet fluid keys; and “Speakers Built In,” where Hunter plays an infectious guitar part with a distorted tone while Lott and Deutsch creep in, giving the song the vibe of a harder-edged Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Other standouts include “Drop a Dime,” which tonally has an almost psychedelic feel; “Spoken Word,” with a keyboard line that brings to mind a spy movie and Hunter sprinkling short licks on the top; the mellow “Estranged,” where Hunter falls back and plays a light, sparse guitar part; and the swingy intro and trippy guitar tone of “Lady!”
One has to give Hunter credit for exploring different musical terrain. It seems to be working well for him, as his diverse base of fans would suggest. Mistico is a winner, and leaves one wondering what to expect on the Charlie Hunter Trio’s next release.