These Are The Vistas – The Bad PlusRight Now Move – Charlie Hunter Quintet
Columbia Records 87040
Ropeadope Records 93137-2
Back in the 70s, a number of artists attempted to combine jazz and rock
elements and gave rise to such terminology as "progressive" and "fusion."
Both of those terms have negative connotations now in some circles, but the
impulses of the time didn't go away; they simply mutated, adapted some of
the characteristics of other musical schools that have come up since, and
continue to produce artists such as The Bad Plus and Charlie Hunter. These
two CDs have almost nothing in common other than their approximate release
dates and the fact that they represent two entries in the current,
post-punk/indie, jamband-identified jazz/rock world.
The Bad Plus seem to have sprung into prominence from almost nowhere, but
not without reason. These Are the Vistas shows a trio ready for
prime time. The 10 tracks grab and seldom let go.
This is a piano trio, but not one likely or evidently attempting to get
ranked with Bill Evans' or Oscar Peterson's units, and not just because of
the Nirvana and Blondie covers. Ethan Iverson's piano solos tend to be tied
closely to the songs' compositional foundations, "locked into the workings
of the music," to borrow Christgau's phrase about Steely Dan. This isn't
really jazz; it's attitude, a unique corner of instrumental music that finds
bluntness in the unplugged. David King's clangorous drumming and Tchad
Blake's sonic architecture define the music.
For those versed in fusion references, think of The Bad Plus as Mahavishnu
and the Charlie Hunter Quintet as the Headhunters. If The Bad Plus have an
audacious concept and the challenge of keeping it fresh over subsequent
outings, Hunter and company have a smooth, palatable sound they could keep
cranking out for many albums to come.
Hunter juggles bass, chordal and melodic duties on eight guitar strings, and
certainly knows his way around the neck. What's most impressive about
Right Now Move, though, is that his compositions are far from being
simple excuses for him to do his thing. The album abounds with lush
textures from John Ellis's tenor sax, Curtis Fowlkes's trombone and Gregoire
Maret's harmonica, sometimes resembling Hancock's thickly-arranged late 60s
bands (Speak Like A Child and the like) more than the Headhunters.
Derek Phillips keeps a resourceful pulse throughout.
The only problem here is that, for better or worse, Hunter's technique
defines everything. He seems consistently primed to set up grooves, but
with limited ability to let go with an assertive lead line. As a result,
Right Now Move offers a mellow funk that's consistent to a fault,
somewhat like Hancock's later Headhunters outings.
With music like this, perhaps fans and reviewers 15 years from now will be
embarrassed by terms like "indie" and "jamband" the way some are by
"fusion," and perhaps others will be proud. In any case, the
genre-combination impulse lives on, and this reviewer, for one, is happy to
see and hear it.