Duo album review @ All About Jazz

Charlie Hunter/Leon Parker: Duo

I could probably spend hours just listening to Leon Parker strum his fingers on a table top. There’s a hypnotic quality to this man’s rhythm-making, and his performance on Duo is by turns engaging and astounding.

That I’m equally taken by Charlie Hunter’s performance is more of a surprise. Sure, I liked some of Hunter’s previous work, especially his debut release Charlie Hunter Trio. And yes, it’s been interesting (and at times incredible) that Hunter tackles all of the lead and bass parts simultaneously with his self-invented eight-string guitar. But too many of Hunter’s past solos meandered outside my appreciation zone. At times I thought he was trying to do the physically impossible by playing bass and lead guitar simultaneously. Consequently I didn’t consider his music in the same league as, say, Frisell’s or Scofield’s or Metheny’s.

Until now. Charlie Hunter hits another level with Duo.

Except for his Bob Marley tribute Natty Dread, Hunter is mostly known for his funk excursions. He really widens his horizons here, and clearly benefits from this partnership with a master rhythmist. Fact is, Hunter and Parker sound like a quartet on this album, and I was amazed to discover that only one track has overdubs («Mean Streak»).

This diverse 10-tune collection includes a Cuban-influenced track («Mean Streak»), a straightforward standard («You Don’t Know What Love Is»), a rollicking shuffle («Recess»), a reverb-heavy Beach Boys ballad («Don’t Talk»), a calypso-soca tune («Calypso For Grandpa»), and five more exhilarating cuts.

With his subtle textures and deft use of rims, cymbals and percussion, Leon Parker seems to have extra appendages, even when using a scaled-back drum kit. And somehow Charlie Hunter manages to command your attention as the sole source of melody throughout Duo. Hunter’s performance seems more focused here than on previous releases, maybe because the physics of having to play all the lines, the bottoms, and the chords forces him to be more concise.

Hunter has said that he’s equally influenced by jazz organists as guitarists. As on past albums, the guitarist incorporates an organ-like sound by routing his eight-string through a Leslie preamp. This approach can be heard on Parker’s swinging tune «Belief» and on «Recess.» I’m not sure who originated this sound, but the great rock axman Danny Gatton did something similar.

As Hunter tells it, the duo route is a rocky road. «It’s like flying a helicopter,» he said. «You have to be on at every moment. Every limb is doing something. There’s no rest and no time to recoup your energy. After one hour you’re totally expended.»

Hunter and Parker are definitely «on» with this one. I’ve never been a big fan of solo or duo jazz albums. I prefer the group dynamic — the multiple exchanges that occur between musicians in quartets and larger ensembles. But the Hunter-Parker duo is a truly dynamic one, and their first CD together is a soulfully rhythmic listen that never gets boring.

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