Two nights with Charlie Hunter at the Mint

Charlie Hunter Trio
The Mint
Los Angeles, California
December 12 & 13, 2008
Words by Joy Rosenberg

Over the course of the Charlie Hunter Trio’s two-night run at Los Angeles’ Mint Supper Club, the band showed off most of the songs from the artist’s latest release, last year’s Baboon Strength – Hunter’s first independent release in his eighteen year recording career.  The current incarnation of the group includes organ player Erik Deutsch (Fat Mama) and all-star drummer Tony Mason, who succeed in transcending Hunter’s usual blues-and-jazz fare into inspired, danceable R&B grooves.  Hunter on seven-string guitar, accompanies his flawless riffs with a bass line, and the resultant sound is much larger than what is expected from the three musicians on stage.
Friday night’s highlights included a lively cover of Cody Chestnutt’s soul tune, “The Seed,” and a hearty dose of funk from two original disco dance anthems from the new record, “Astronaut Love Triangle” and “Welcome to Frankfurt.”  The crowd was attentive, and Hunter professed that it was the “Best L.A. audience” he’d had, although his enjoyment was obvious by intense facial contortions that periodically emerged into huge, toothy smiles when he hit the sacred “pocket” of groove.

The trio was more animated Saturday night, busting out with up-tempo blues and a few climactic tunes from Friday’s second set, including the Osmonds’s “One Bad Apple.”  This was Deutsch’s night to shine, as he used the bass as a launching pad for intergalactic travels, tethered to the spaceship only by Mason’s upbeat and reliable snare/cymbal combo. 

Hunter denied a request to play something from his 1997 Marley cover album Natty Dread, but later in the set he picked out a reggae beat that emerged into the unmistakable chorus of Black Uhuru’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Natty Dreadlock).”  The evening closed with the incandescent “Fine Corinthian Leather” and a houserockin’ blues version of “Some Kind of Wonderful” as encore.  The musicians’ relaxed confidence with their joyful, all-encompassing sound brought everyone present along for the ride.