Review: Duo, by Charlie Hunter & Leon Parker

Charlie Hunter and Leon Parker
Duo (Blue Note, 1999)
Produced by Charlie Hunter and Joe Ferla

I’ve learned recently that April is Jazz Appreciation Month, so I felt it should be appropriate to share one of my favorite jazz musicians and records: Charlie Hunter and Leon Parker’s Duo.

I first heard of Charlie Hunter when one of his songs was recommended to me a long time ago on iTunes. This was long before I developed my own tastes in music, so I just went with anything that looked or sounded interesting, which is an approach that still serves me well on occasion now! It was a track called “March 1741, Cape Horn” from Longitude, his collaboration with drummer Bobby Previte and DJ Logic as Groundtruther. What really makes Hunter special is his custom-made seven or eight-string guitar that has bass strings on the bottom and regular electric guitar strings on the top. It’s a treat to watch him play and perform finger gymnastics as he switches and combines bass, melodic leads, and chords.

On Duo, Hunter teams up with percussionist and drummer Leon Parker, and it’s a very fruitful pairing. Parker plays with a minimal amount of drums and cymbals or with congas, utilizing his kit as a lead instrument in addition to expected rhythm duties, akin to how Hunter does double duty with his custom guitar. Rather than competing with Hunter’s guitar, Parker’s percussion seasons and complements it. With that, Duo’s tracks are pretty sparsely arranged, but they are not lacking in mood or character. “Belief” and “Dark Corner” proceed with a catlike swagger, while “The Last Time” and “The Spin Seekers” have some spring in their step. “Do That Then” starts with a ballsy, bluesy solo courtesy of Hunter’s guitar, while “Recess” will make listeners dizzy as its bassline meanders around a very funky rhythm guitar. However, the real highlight is their cover of the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder).” As Hunter plays bass and melody, Parker’s drums accentuate it like the original’s orchestral backing, while the kick drum beat in the chorus cleverly recalls Brian Wilson’s lyric, “Take my hand and let me hear your heartbeat.” The minimal arrangement heightens the song’s poignant sympathy, highlighting Hunter and Parker’s astute musicianship and clever interpretation.

Ken.

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