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Friends Seen and Unseen – Charlie Hunter Trio

Ropeadope Records 51539

A truly unique voice in the music world is hard to come by; even scarcer is an artist whose integrity cannot be compromised.

So it goes then that Charlie Hunter is a pretty rare guy these days. And with Friends Seen And Unseen, his twelfth outing as a leader (and third date for Ropeadope), the matchless guitarist demonstrates once again why he’s in a class all his own.

And why it's important to have Friends. Expert foil John Ellis provides tenor saxophone, flute and bass clarinet; Derrek Phillips contributes the bad-ass trap kit funk you hear. Both men appeared on Hunter's explosive 2003 release Right Now Move; but make no mistake: Charlie’s new record is hardly the Latin dance party that Move was all about.

In fact, the guitarist's new trio offers something a bit more unexpected. Hunter and company are not here to make you shake your rump for once; this time around, they just want you to chill. Simply put, Friends Seen and Unseen is a record of unprecedented soulfulness.

And you're going to love it. Check out "Eleven Bars For Gandhi," where Hunter really gets his Stevie Ray Vaughan on, or "Soweto's Where It's At" for a shockingly authentic bluesiness you didn't know Hunter was capable of.

The talent that belongs to this band is pretty authentic, too. "Bonus Round" boasts a dark, catchy melody brimming with Ellis' dirty sax runs, and "Moore's Alphabet" coasts breezily along on top of Phillips' solid New Orleans groove. Full of style and good taste, the guitarist's new record is a mellow masterpiece.

Armed with eight strings and the truth, Hunter has not failed yet to deliver what the people want: intelligent instrumental music that appeals to the mind and the behind (this disc leans more toward the former). Here's to another twelve.

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