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On his first album for a new label (after seven with Blue Note), the mercurial Charlie Hunter again works with a new group of musicians. Unlike the vocal-heavy Songs From the Analog Playground, Hunter returns to instrumentals on these 13 tracks. But it's the unique makeup of his band that gives this music its offbeat, eclectic, yet soothing qualities. Backed by drums and a two-piece horn section (Curtis Fowlkes on trombone and John Ellis on tenor sax), it's the group's fifth member -- Gregoire Maret on chromatic harmonica -- that really twists this music into unusual and previously unchartered waters. Easygoing, somewhat tropical funk and strong horn lines infuse a gentle, breezy, but not flimsy quality to this music. The horn players are both spectacular. Kudos in particular go to Fowlkes' trombone on the percussion-heavy "Freak Fest" and harp player Maret, whose minor key lines on "Mali," the album's longest track, add a European edge to the tune's lighthearted funk and complex horn charts. Arguably lost in the shuffle at times is Hunter himself, whose guitar/bass patterns underscore the proceedings, but only occasionally command center stage. Still, it is his concept that provides the foundation for the brass to work against, and his ever-present chords, many of which sound like keyboards due to various effects, provide the album's context. His spare George Benson-like style spars with the horns most effectively on "Le Bateau Ivre," the set's closing track, and "Wade in the Water," the sole cover. Hunter is at his playful best when his bouncy bass rules and the horns swing on the compact four-and-a-half-minute "Whoop-Ass." The New Orleans beat on "20th Century" -- featuring dueling sax and trombone goosed by Derrek Phillips' lively drumming -- is another highlight on an album filled with them. Though the approach is unique, it becomes less exciting and the tracks are more difficult to differentiate as the disc unfolds. Regardless, Hunter, to his credit, is trying something different (once more) and established fans of his jazz fusion worldbeat will not be disappointed.
Performance CreditsCharlie Hunter Primary Artist,8-string Guitar,Pandeiro
Curtis Fowlkes Trombone
Grégoire Maret Harmonica,Chromatic Harmonica
Derrek Phillips Drums
John Ellis Bass Clarinet,Tenor Saxophone
Technical CreditsScotty Hard Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Charlie Hunter Composer,Producer,Audio Production
Adrian Cunningham Illustrations
David Bias Art Direction