Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola
(Vortex, Monday 4 April – first of a 2-night residency – Review and drawings (*) by Geoff Winston)
These two funkmeisters have been playing together on and off for almost twenty years, ever since Charlie Hunter (7-string guitar) drafted Scott Amendola (drums) into his Bay Area funk-inflected combo, T J Kirk – that’s Thelonious, James (Brown) and Roland.
Onstage they read each other intuitively. Hunter, grimacing and laughing as they put down the right notes and the rolling rhythms, breathtakingly coaxed both bass and lead from his 7-string custom build. Amendola, smiling all through both sets, took licence to let the percussion take the lead. Whether it was Hunter drifting in to a loping blues or Amendola battening down an irresistible shuffle, the other followed and repaid with equivalent momentum. They were always thinking at least one bar ahead of what they were playing – and they just loved it! The Vortex was at its garage-cosiest, making you feel you were friends sitting in on a personal jam.
Modestly, Hunter doesn’t draw attention to his virtuosity. His technique is so finely honed that it is easy to overlook how extraordinarily his bass runs counter his simultaneous solos. He uses mainly thumb on the three bass strings, and everything from throaty blues to gliding runs are plucked with his fingers on his specially made fretboard, angled at either end, with the frets set out following a fan-shaped pattern.
Hunter’s jokingly complained that his own bass amp ‘comes funk free’ and that he was ‘trying to inject some funk’ into it! Any deficiencies in the technical department – to be honest, not apparent – were more than compensated for to the right of the stage where Amendola laid into his conventional kit, confidently mixing restrained jazz invention with freewheeling power surges on cymbals, a lingering backbeat worthy of the late Richie Hayward or a JB Revue, and a gleeful urge to roll in hiccupping funk at any opportunity!
Hunter, disarmingly engaging and informal, asked what they should play next – pop, jazz or blues? Their cross-genre repertoire included Monk, Strayhorn, Lennon, rough blues, a touch of steaming samba and a host of jazz standards – which he couldn’t name as he was ‘having too much fun in the non-verbal world’ – and the self-penned ‘High Pockets and a Fanny Pack’ (apparently a visit to a State Fair would explain this title!). And references flew around in their delivery – Johnny Guitar Watson, Buddy Guy, George Benson at his chunkiest, Robert Johnson, Tal Farlow …
They were equally at home with quieter, delicate moods – but not for too long! The changes of pace and key kept them perpetually on their toes. Way after 11pm, Hunter declared that they just wanted to ‘play and play’ and they moved on to a careering, funk-based extemporisation – with phrases from ‘Martha, My Dear’ – picking up on the spirit of the closer of their first set, a mischievous and energetic percussion duet.
Hunter bowed out, in solo troubadour-style with one of the selections made by his 99 years young grandfather for his latest solo album, ‘Public Domain’ (Spire Artists) – a marvellously inventive Alexander’s Ragtime Band, ‘from 1905’, changing time signatures, rendering the tune almost invisible as he ran his flowing invention around its core theme.
Another fine coup for the Vortex.
(*)Drawings of Charlie Hunter, and of his fretboard, Copyright Geoffrey Winston 2011. All rights reserved
Listen Again to the great set from the Vortex, and the conversation with Charlie Hunter sitting in with Jez Nelson for the whole on Jazz on 3 programme – only till Monday!