Charlie Hunter is a jazz guitar adventurer. On a musical road less traveled, with technique that has been described as mind-boggling, he plays solos, intricate bass lines and rhythm simultaneously on his custom seven string guitar.
The Charlie Hunter Quartet will play two shows at Silo’s in Napa on Saturday, Dec. 3.
On the phone from his home in Montclair, New Jersey last month, Hunter talked about his early influences and the evolution of his technique. “I started out listening to lots of Joe Pass and Tuck Andress (of Tuck and Patti) and then a lot of other stuff, my mom’s blues records. I just wanted to expand on that.
“I feel like I just do what any other musician who’s really into music does, just keep exploring, keep working and you get a sound in your head, and you just follow it, and then that leads to something else. It’s a lot of practice, endless. I just think the whole thing is building on what technique you have, and then something sparks something, and before you know it you’re trying to figure out some other technique.”
Hunter’s approach is deeply grounded in rhythm, avoiding emphasis on linear playing, by which he means unintegrated attachment to melody, particularly showy mile-a-minute soloing. “If you listen to guitar throughout the ages,” he said, “what is it generally used for? It was used as kind of a rhythmic, harmonic accompanying instrument for singing, almost always.
“If you get to the most advanced old-world guitar playing, like flamenco, you have the rhythmic, the harmonic and the melodic as well. I think that we’re the first culture that kind of took guitar out of that. We want to play linear guitar, but I think guitar is not in its best light when it’s doing that.
“It’s in its best light when it’s doing something which is kind of a rhythmic and harmonic and melodic thing, where the melodic and the harmonic are not a slave to the rhythm, but they’re kept in line by the rhythm, and that’s how the guitar will live.”
“When I think about that, I think about all the old players like Blind Blake and guys like that,” Hunter said. “Even Tuck Andress does that. And Joe Pass, as jazzy and linear as he is, he still does that kind of thing. We spend so much time as American guitar players trying to be really smooth and fast, and we start to neglect the rhythm. It’s like skimming the top, it’s not deep and it’s not rhythmically sound.”
Over the past 24 years, Hunter has recorded 17 albums and an additional two dozen recordings as a side man or collaborator. His most recent album is 2016’s “Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched in the Mouth.” Hunter said that the title is a Mike Tyson quote.
At Silo’s, Hunter will be accompanied by Scott Amendola on drums, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Kasey Knudsen on saxophone.
Saturday, Dec. 3, two shows: 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $20—$25. Silo’s. 530 Main St, Napa. 707-251-5833. SilosNapa.com.