Charlie Hunter is one of a handful of musicians spearheading the “grits-and-gravy” renaissance, a return to the greasy grooves and organ-centered riffage popular in jazz clubs of the late ’50s and ’60s. But he’s no mere revivalist: he’s a youngster whose first guitar teacher was Joe Satriani. He grew up listening to Eric Clapton and the usual blues-rockers, as well as Charlie Christian and Charles Mingus. He favors an eight-string guitar that allows him to play basslines and makes him sound like he has three demented hands.
Hunter first surfaced as the guitarist in Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, supporting rapper Michael Franti’s neo-psychedelic flights of political fancy. As a side project, Hunter, drummer Jay Lane and saxophonist Dave Ellis began gigging around San Francisco’s fertile jazz-roots-world scene, where they were discovered by Les Claypool. Produced by the Primus bassist, Charlie Hunter Trio was recorded on an 8-track tape machine for a hundred dollars. Though deceptively clean, its diffuse, fusiony compositions don’t fully convey the group’s sass and spirit — only “Dance of the Jazz Fascists” (aided by a couple of guest percussionists and trumpeter Scott Jensen) comes close.
But that spirit nearly overwhelms Bing, Bing, Bing!, a thoroughly refreshing mélange of understated guitar melodicism and fat backbeats. Produced by jazzbo Lee Townsend (Bill Frisell, John Scofield), Bing, Bing, Bing! is the sound of a young man who wishes he was old enough to have hung out in clubs where that dirty, take-no-prisoners swing went down — he’s a bit wistful but anxious to prove he can burn. Alternating between hard shuffles and airy ballads, Hunter covers more terrain than a Manhattan bike messenger, yet never sounds overextended. His blues (“Greasy Granny”) are the real thing, his bebop swings effortlessly and his rethinking of Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” (in 5/4!) is that rare cover strong enough to enrich appreciation of the original.