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Altitude (With John Medeski)

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Album Review

The third installment of the Groundtruther trilogy sees Charlie Hunter and Bobby Previte inviting John Medeski to be the third wheel. With both Hunter and Medeski on board, one could be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a funky good time, but Groundtruther is about pure spontaneous improvisation and totally unconcerned with getting people out on the dancefloor. There are two discs: Above Sea Level is the electrified set and Below Sea Level is the acoustic set. The electric set has Medeski playing his full array of vintage keyboards (including some really nice Mellotron) with Previte playing a hybrid electric/acoustic drum kit and electronics and Hunter using a near lethal amount of distortion. Medeski and Hunter compete for wicked tones, and with Previte's knack for triggered samples, it can be difficult to figure out who's doing what at times. Medeski and Previte have both been recorded in "out" situations, but you've never heard Charlie Hunter playing like this. The funk and soul-jazz leanings are mostly abandoned and there's a raw aggressiveness to his playing and tone that's a bit surprising. On "Pyramid of Giza," he actually lets his completely distorted chords ring into feedback. At other times, you'd almost be hard pressed to identify his sounds as guitar and not some keyboard. Previte moves back and forth between his acoustic drums and the electronic ones as Medeski coaxes some really odd sounds from his keys. They can go from spacy to noisy in a heartbeat, with all players clearly listening to each other and responding.

The acoustic disc is another beast entirely. Previte sticks to a regular kit, Medeski plays acoustic piano (melodica on one track) and Charlie Hunter plays acoustic exclusively (his first acoustic recordings), so here, you can easily identify the players. This disc is really out there; closer at times to a Derek Bailey project than anything Hunter has been associated with. Much of Hunter's playing sounds almost like prepared guitar although he adopts an almost flamenco style for part of "Mariana Trench," probably the prettiest track on the second disc. And he doesn't just play the strings of the guitar either, throughout you can hear him tapping and slapping the body of the guitar as well. Medeski plays lots of skittering piano while Previte's role is more of a colorist than a timekeeper. The tunes on Below Sea Level are generally more sparse, although "Submarine Canyon" sounds almost like a busy locked loop. "Cold Seep" has an Asian flavor to it, with some low groaning vocalizing in the background. It's interesting to contrast the two sets, where the same basic method of operation leads to two very different sets based on the instrumentation. Altitude probably won't get your toe tapping (at least not in any steady time), but it's filled with the magic of spontaneous music creation from three modern masters.

Biography

Born: 1968 in Rhode Island

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

As a young guitarist growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Charlie Hunter was looking for a way to stand out in the '80s. His primary influences were jazz great Joe Pass and the fluid Tuck Andress (of the guitar/vocal duo Tuck & Patti), both six-string guitarists who were adept at blending bass notes into their standard guitar melodies to make themselves sound like two musicians at once. But Hunter wanted to take it one step further and set out to find an instrument on which he could simultaneously...
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Altitude (With John Medeski), Charlie Hunter
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