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Published: 2004/05/29
by Brad Farberman

Come In Red Dog, This Is Tango Leader – Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte

Ropeadope Records

Dr. John said it best: "You can always tell when it's Monk and when it's somebody trying to play like Monk." Likewise, you can always tell when it's Charlie Hunter.

So it's fitting that Hunter's latest Ropeadope release, Come In Red Dog, This Is Tango Leader, would’ve made Monk proud.

With Red Dog, Hunter has prepared a record of astonishing economy. The album is a bare-bones masterpiece, rounded out by drummer Bobby Previte’s concrete beats and electronic embellishments. Fully improvised, the tunes included on Red Dog stand as both a testament to the raw, creative process employed by the duo and as a monument to the capabilities of just two men.

Furthermore, for all of its sparse majesty, the record sounds fat. Hunter and Previte, master conservationists, fill space where appropriate but do so in a big way. The album retains a thick, muscular sound representative of the recent Ropeadope catalogue (records like Sex Mob's Dime Grind Palace, Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet and Hunter’s work for the label are quickly cementing the "Ropeadope" sound).

Also, Red Dog is a departure from Hunter’s previous date. Quintet recording Right Now Move was a heavily arranged, horn-led outing full of New Orleans swagger and stinky Latin funk. Similarly, the recording is an amendment to Hunter’s 1999 outing, Duo: the guitarist’s collaboration with drummer Leon Parker, a subdued set of slow burners, was just a shade of things to come.

And then it came. The album leads off with "All Hell Broke Loose," a whirling dervish of Hunter's tasteful, funky rhythm work over Previte's pots and pans percussion. The guitarist's bass lines are exceptional here, especially towards the conclusion of the tune; essentially, Hunter operates as two, fully functional musicians.

On "Said God," the duo slow things down for a mellow, contemplative piece. Both sinister and serene, Hunter's Leslie-fied guitar weaves in and out of Previte's slow groove. Like Hunter's "Al Green," this tune is funky without going over the top.

"Okay, Okay" is a Latin thing akin to Hunter's Right Now Move grooves, but a lot spacier; Previte kicks it with a hip hop feel, and they’re off. Hunter takes the time here to stretch out as a soloist, and does not fail to impress. The guitarist’s improvisations are as impressive rhythmically as they are melodically.

The album concludes with an intense, mid-tempo rager that builds and builds. "Can You Hear Me, Tango Leader?" is a showcase for Hunter's depth as a guitarist; both soulful and undeniably accessible, Hunter's playing is majestic.

All things considered, what is most impressive about this record is that two men joined forces to produce a sound unthinkable had there been ten musicians present at the session. The rhythmic rapport shared by Hunter and Previte is astonishing, as is their combined ability to keep things fresh and exciting.

Recorded live in the studio, Red Dog is 52 minutes of uninhibited improvisation. The record embodies a bulk of sound that belies its sparse arrangement, a premise that no self-respecting Charlie Hunter aficionado would chance missing out on. Besides, Monk would have loved it.

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