David Banks, NPR Online
Charlie Hunter and his custom-built eight-string guitar in NPR's Studio 4A.
Cover for Charlie Hunter Quintet CD 'Right Now Move' (Ropeadope Records)
David Banks, NPR Online
A man of many talents: Hunter demonstrates his skill playing another uncommon instrument, a tuneable tambourine.
A snappy new CD by the Charlie Hunter Quintet called Right Now Move on Ropeadope Records features harmonica, sax, trombone, drums, and some tasty staccato guitar chords underpinned by a funky bass line — but there's no bass player listed in the liner notes.
That's because Hunter does double duty, playing bass and guitar lines with his custom-made eight-string guitar. The 35-year-old player grew up in the San Francisco Bay area playing a more typical six-string guitar, taking lessons at age 14 from master guitarist Joe Satriani. But Hunter's interest in the complex jazz of players like Joe Pass and Tuck Andress led him to the conclusion that six strings just weren't enough.
Hunter recently came to NPR's Studio 4A to demonstrate his technique, and chat with NPR's Liane Hansen about the theory behind his unique playing style — and also the uncommon instrumentalists that make up his band.
His current band includes: harmonica player Gregoire Maret, who has played with Branford Marsalis and Jacky Terrasson; sax/bass clarinet player John Ellis, who's played with Jason Marsalis; trombone player Curtis Fowlkes, best known for his work with John Lurie's Lounge Lizards; and drummer Derek Philips, who has collaborated with jazz musicians Greg Osby and Joshua Redman.
A Down Beat magazine review of Right Now Move says it is "truly a band album, with Hunter often playing a sideman role." Hunter rarely solos on guitar — he says he likes to groove in tight-but-funky compositions that best play off the true ensemble nature of the group.
Hunter's mother fixed instruments at a guitar shop in Berkeley — a shop that was also the unofficial hangout of standout musicians from all over. He had a somewhat nomadic upbringing, traveling around with his mother in a school bus.
He was a proponent of the "hip hop" or "acid jazz" movement that hit the Bay Area in the mid-90s, mixing jazz with funk, hip-hop and rock.
His first major gig came in 1991 with The Disposable Heroes of HipHopricy. But he really came into his own with the group T.J. Kirk, and followed up with several critically acclaimed solo CDs.
Hunter credits musicians Jimmy Smith and Larry Young, both organ players, as huge influences on his style — Young in particular, because of the way Young would play bass lines with his left hand and chords and melodies with his right. In fact, many listeners often mistake Hunter's guitar for an organ because of the rich, vibrant sound and complex chords.