Over the weekend: Charlie Hunter at the Oriental

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Charlie Hunter Quartet 
February 27, 2009 
The Oriental Theater

Better Than: Hunting through your receipts for itemized deductibles for your tax check. Which is what I should have been doing. 

Over the past few decades, Charlie Hunter has become an icon among bass players, guitarists and rhythm gurus for his ability to sculpt a groove that reaches beyond genre lines. At the Oriental on Friday night, he created a story with an obvious arc, a true beginning, middle and end. Most musicians strive for this in songs with lyrics, but to have this pour out of an instrumentalist -- and not just the star instrumentalist of the group, but the entire group -- is impressive.

Hunter took the stage about a half-hour late, prompting a few rowdies who were excited to see him to yell some choice words in his direction. "You talk to your mother that way?" he yelled back as he took a seat on the stage. Proving to be as laid-back as the venue, Hunter and his group provided the most relaxed concert experience I've witnessed in a very long time. The energy concentrically circled from tune to tune, none of which were announced or seemed to be following a designated set list. Wax and wane of emotions, highs and lows set at just the right time, Hunter's masterful knack for turning a traditional blues riff into sudden bursts of violet and red, then purples to blues again, is akin to his wide range of influences. Unlike many of his peers in this so-called genre of jazz and blues, Hunter kindles a spirit and groove that's ass-shakingly good. Throughout both sets, the multi-generational audience danced as if there was no tomorrow. 

Hunter's fleet fingers carved notches in the neck of his guitar as his amusing ideas shaped and molded tunes from his life experience. Flashes of his life passed as the measures carried on behind him, with or without the band. This is what a true musician does: allows the music to speak when words are absent. Likewise, Hunter set the framework for his group to deliver their autobiographies too...sans interference. The baritone player ripped through the crowd with his oomph of sheer wind power (why more groups don't use a bari-man to steady their groove is baffling), while the trumpet player unfolded a blanket of ideas and the drummer cleaned the house of any stale rhythms left over from previous groups, cymbals splashing with each smile from the crowd. 

The group's collective ability to transmit the vibe behind the mastermind of this project to its rightful place was clear, but the musicians' stiff dancing on stage while Hunter tore through his solos could have been left behind the curtains. Choreographers are historically not synonymous with horn players. 
All in all, Charlie Hunter and his crew proved once again that it's the innovators, not the imitators, that triumph in this business. 

Critic's Notebook: 
Personal Bias: I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with guitar music...okay, guitarists. Pat Metheny was somewhat of a religious icon in my home while growing up. I probably definitely need therapy. 
Random Detail: Charlie is a huge fan of David Ruffin, and it shows. He not only talked about him in his interview, but played a tune of his. Don't know Ruffin? You should. Google him. 
By the Way: The Oriental Theater is one of the most loose and hip venues to hang and catch a great artist like Charlie. Intimate and fun, it felt, at times, like we were all in someone's living room, listening to the hi-fi, having beers and getting to know each other a little better.

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