Charlie Hunter Trio, Jazz Alley, Seattle, WA – 12/5
Thirty to fifty-dollar bottles of wine stood tall on nearly every table while grilled Alaskan salmon and braised lamb shank artfully adorned white china. If you weren't there to eat then you were there to drink as your reservations read "cocktails." Upon arrival you were escorted around the room, allowed to survey different tables until you found one that suited your sights. And the cost of your ticket was tacked onto your bill when it was presented at the end of the evening.
That's how it goes at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley. Classy.
Charlie Hunter and company dined alongside everyone else in attendance and simply made their way to the stage when they were ready to roll. The whole set-up, the entire feel of the place was such a far cry from the hundreds of bar, club, even theatre scenes out there that it played a significant role in your experience of Hunter's brand of jazz. I mean, how often do you have an ice-cold glass of water constantly being refilled for you without even asking?
In May, Hunter said adieu to John Ellis and Derrek Phillips who had rounded out his trio for the last four years. In their stead came Erik Deutsch on piano and keyboards and Simon Lott on drums. With Hunter always in the middle of something most recently Bobby Previte's Coalition of the Willing it's hard to say how much time the revised trio has spent hashing out its formula. A mere two dates in Mexico City preceded its first States’ appearance in Seattle yet the group has an obviously natural understanding of one another and its capabilities, allowing it to effortlessly start at full capacity.
Sophisticated electric rock characterized the first number, Hunter's solos carrying an air of Jimi Hendrix 'til Deutsch brought it down to an atmospheric whisper with his keys. Overall, the evening was deeply rooted in jazz, but the substitution of keys for horns in the new trio clearly enabled the group to experiment more with rock, even a little electronica.
Bucking the Seattle trend to talk during shows (okay, the venue in itself demanded such conduct), the audience sat in quiet reverence, occasionally voicing its approval with exclamations of "nice" and "oh yeah," the slight rustling of forks the only invasive sound. The musicians themselves extended the same kind of admiration for each other. While Deutsch laid down a classic, beautiful solo on his piano Hunter watched quietly from his chair before then taking his turn to wow the crowd as Deutsch placed his hands on his knees, leaned over and focused on Hunter.
Lott's solos were perhaps the most engaging, his appearance alone evidence that he would've fit right in on Fifty-Second sixty years ago. Hunched over with fedora placed just so, Lott shrugged and skulked, not quite as animated as Keith Moon but lively nonetheless. A basic repetitious rhythm would suddenly explode into hurried, frantic beats, although such spurts of energy remained fluid, never jagged or awkward. Four songs into the set, Lott showcased his skills for about five minutes before Hunter entered in with his eight-string, massaging the fretboard to create an easygoing groove as Deutsch went up and down the ivory. Lott returned, shaking his hips in his seat, rounding out a thick yet clean jazz sound. Hunter took the group into dirty blues territory before they played it back to jazz and Deutsch ended the progressively layered number with some quiet, intense, thoughtful piano.
"Mistico," named after a Lucha Libre wrestler (so that's what they were doing in Mexico), carried a bit of mystery with an almost circus-esque attitude thanks to Deutsch's mini-keyboard. By far the most dissonant piece all night, the song incorporated spacey electronics and rock guitar, and simultaneous plunks on the piano and keyboard. Lott rolled through a second mesmerizing solo, traversing across his kit with dexterity, his sticks a blur. All-out jamming was taken down to a murmur, then sent back to a hard-driving beat before coming down again.
Hunter showed the audience what an eight-string is all about for the final song of the set, his characteristic sneer revealing his concentration. The guitarist's fingers must be a cross between Mister Fantastic and the Flash as he worked out impossible chords on the lower six strings while keeping a bass beat that made you believe there was an invisible fourth member onstage. Jazz Alley, with its candlelit tables, was an appropriate atmosphere for such a display, as Hunter's technique demands an attention span you simply won't find in a concrete club where patrons prattle over pints of PBR.