Charlie Hunter is nothing if not resourceful. Halfway through his fine new album, “Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth,” the guitarist hunts and pecks out notes with cornetist Kirk Knuffke in purely exploratory fashion. Drummer Bobby Previte gradually joins in to sustain the barest suggestion of a groove. Then trombonist Curtis Fowlkes adds the closest thing the tune has to a bass line. The delightfully meandering conversation, held barely above a whisper, runs on for five minutes.
Then the horns, not Hunter, bloom into a brief blues serenade before the tune recoils into its lightly punctuated beginnings. The resulting music sounds like a New Orleans street parade if it were contained in a dark alley. The song’s title then encapsulates the music’s mischievous nature: “Who Put You Behind the Wheel?”
The tune is a glimpse into the working mind of a guitarist who continues to discover new possibilities of jazz thinking. Hunter staked his claim at ingenuity who two decades ago with the advancement of an eight-string electric guitar that allows him to, in effect, be his own bassist.
On “Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth” (the title comes from a storied quote by Mike Tyson), Hunter convenes his first group larger than a trio since 2003 and one his most novel in terms of instrumentation: guitar, drums, cornet and trombone. But as with so many of his projects, you could find yourself not thinking much about his pioneering guitar philosophy or even the distinction of his group. On “Punched,” the focus is very much on the stylistic terrain this industrious band covers.
On “We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent,” Hunter summons a jagged groove than runs over a blues shuffle by Previte (one of the guitarist’s longstanding allies whose playing possesses a consistently sharp, tasteful and inventive edge). The brass occasionally oozes in and out with sly orchestration, but the bulk of the song is a bare-bones blues duel.
The horns get their due on “The Guys Get Shirts,” a jovial bit of New Orleans-accented fun that decelerates into a deep-pocket blues groove before reaching back into jazz sunshine. “Latin for Travelers” is exactly that, with a hushed, syncopated dance beat that lifts its rhythmic veil for the horns to gaze through with after-hours color.
Then, on “(Looks Like) Someone Got Ahead of Schedule on Their Medication,” Hunter accents the bass range of his playing for a slow-brewed groove with Previte before the horns flesh out the music’s heavily humid blues soundscape.
Performed with a sense of playful cunning that brings to mind Frank Zappa’s more horn-savvy ensembles, “Punched” packs a punch by yielding its jazz pedigree to a sense of blues-saturated glee.
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com