ALEX BLAKE One of the world’s great bassists, he has toured and recorded with Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard and Randy Weston, to name but a few. He is also a serious composer and contributed four original tunes to this album.
VICTOR JONES For me, New York’s ultimate drummer, a walking synthesis of all of the great innovators from Max Roach and Tony Williams to Big Sid Catlett. He has worked extensively with Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Lou Donaldson, Stanley Turrentine, Michel Petruciani and Stanley Clarke.
TED CRUZ on piano, brought so much to this project, with his great coloristic insights, re-working some of the existing arrangements and adding exquisite, spontaneous introductions to others. He has performed with Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, Steve Coleman, and is also an accomplished producer and composer in his own right.
This project is now available at CD Baby http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/chrishunter and this website (please see contact page) and will soon be available at Amazon, iTunes, eMusic and others.
Chris Hunter: Past and Present
© 2009, Peter “Pepe” Greenaway
Searching the web is a good introduction to music. A measure of Chris Hunter’s influence is a featured version of Dr Sax on You-Tube, linked on most of the sax player forums. More and more of these classic clips are unavailable or blocked, however, and you’re only really scratching the surface. Websites are more reliable and give a more representative view of the artist, something like the difference between Vogue magazine and daily papers. For understanding more than compromising, I recommend going to Chris’s web site at www.huntercsax.com. There you'll hear the album Big Trip (2003, Absord Japan) and the kind of musicianship that speaks volumes each time you listen. Listening to Big Trip, you are introduced to voicings and melodies that put the pleasure back into life, held by an Anglo-American atavism of well-informed and concordant harmony that quite belies the crisis-drone we are fed by the world media. This is music news that beats the news channel.
Big Trip and Chris Hunter
As far as finding more music by Chris Hunter, the catalogue is quite extensive. A sister album to Big Trip is Chris Hunter (1986, Atlantic), arranged by Don Sebesky. This is a nine-piece band with selections performed by Chris. It’s heavily representative of the C.T.I label. Many of the same musicians are on Larry Coryell’s Fallen Angel, released on C.T.I. So a lot of these musicians are stablemates. As direction and reflection, it will tell you all you want to know about Chris's legacy and inherent talent. I asked Chris about these albums.
Chris: I agree that the Chris Hunter album on Atlantic was in some ways (for John Snyder, executive producer, and Don Sebesky, arranger, producer) an attempt to re-realize their CTI days. Pivotal in the whole process was the decision to record at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey, which in itself determined much of the material content of the record, classic R&B Americana (Rudy's sound is so genre specific, I always think of it as nostalgia via the rosy haze of technological deficiency). As far as Big Trip goes, I guess in terms of my quest to record an iconic American instrumental album it is a similar project, although the tunes are almost all original, written by Ross Traut and Chuck Loeb, and were assembled over a 5-year period. I'd been doing a lot of amazing bus tours in the US, as a member of various bands, and wanted to record a project that somehow celebrated that experience, so I guess its my idea of the ultimate driving record.
Years of leading the sax section in the Gil Evans Orchestra has a lot to do with Chris’s depth of knowledge and breadth of range. Joining the Gil Evans Orchestra in Japan  marked the beginning of a union of unmistakable talent. Chris's invaluable interpretations of Gil Evans’ transient notation has undoubtedly enhanced the spectrum of modern music, enabling subsequent composers and performers to develop the jazz form. Imagine music scored and re-scored listening to new sounds and rehearsing new charts when the ink on the sheet has hardly dried, with parts written for first alto, solos written for 2nd or 3rd trumpet melodies honed for lead players.
Pepe: What do you feel was the legacy left to you by Gil Evans, a friend and mentor and undoubtedly one of the greatest jazz composers of our time?
Chris: Gil was some one who, for me, had pretty mythical status very early in my career. He'd make occasional appearances in the UK and just the cast list of musicians and the instruments they played fascinated me. Hannibal Marvin Peterson, trumpet and tubular bells; Pete Levin, synthesizer, French horn. I wondered what kind of place it was that these people came from and how they even got to think so originally, and eventually realized that they were all the kind of creative original creatures that New York seemed to specialize in producing. I think the first recordings of his I'd heard were Svengali and There Comes a Time, both recorded much later in his life than the classic Miles dates, but probably my favorites of all his projects. Maybe because they incorporate all of that contemporary instrumentation. You describe Gil as a composer, but he was primarily an arranger and re-composer, and by that I mean that his arrangements so fundamentally reworked the underlying harmonies of pieces he made them his own. Classic examples of this are for instance “King Porter Stomp,” “Summertime,” “Sketches of Spain.” By the time I got to work with him, he'd largely abandoned formal structure and the kind of meticulous orchestrations he was famous for, so I wasn't so much leading the sax section as participating in what were really gloriously euphoric spontaneous unisons, where each individual interpreted the chosen melody in his own way. Gil seemed to thrive on this and the uniqueness of the players in his band. He still even now seems so present. I think the single most valuable thing I got from being around him was the way he just let go, how he kind of embraced the chaos and serendipity of each accidental moment without wanting to control or contain it.
Recordings Past and Present
Pepe: Chris, trying to get a chronology of your album releases is tricky, the maze of recording dates becomes obscure around the time of Paddle Wheel.
Chris: You ask about Paddle Wheel but there are a number of records that were recorded for various labels in Japan in the late 80's and 90's, all of these are linked by one hugely important figure to me, Shigeyuki Kawashima, the Japanese Producer. He is a great friend and supporter and gave me a lot of creative freedom in all of these projects. I guess the main recordings of this period are Scarborough Fair, I Want You (both in many ways an exploration of the Gil Evans Legacy), again Big Trip, and finally Goose the Pooche, a Parker Tribute.
Pepe: Most importantly, can you give us details on plans for your next album. Can you say how you gauge your input on recordings?
Chris: I'm currently in the middle of another project, working title Bop City. Most of the music for this was written by Alex Blake, the great bassist and composer whose band I've been working in for a number of years. It’s not strictly speaking a bop record but an assembly of really compelling originals and a couple of well-known standards. I also re-recorded “Too High,” the Stevie Wonder song; it had been on my very first recording Early Days (Original Records, 1980) and now seemed like a good time to re-approach it. I think I need to clarify one thing. I am definitely not a composer, although I do from time to time write contributions for various recordings. The main focus I have in making music is in the continuing development of my linear vocabulary and the voices I have in my four instruments, Alto, Tenor, Soprano and Flute.
Pepe: Could I ask you about how your interest in music took shape and developed here in England before you moved to America?
Chris. My musical background in England is kind of curious. I'd sung in a professional choir as a kid (10-11), The London Boy Singers, a lot of concerts throughout the country and London, Wigmore Hall, and Queen Elizabeth Hall. Then I kind of lost interest in music. My experience in the choir was fairly typical of that draconian period of English education, unpleasant and humiliating. So a couple of years later I took up the saxophone and began private study with a great teacher, Lesley Evans. My progress was slow though and I really wasn't motivated until one day he included “Moose the Mooche” (the Bird tune) as part of a page of studies. It totally fascinated me and I was hooked thereafter. I left school at 15 and went to work as an apprentice at my dad’s print shop in High Holborn, and that seemed like it would be my life except there was this lingering saxophone thing. I used to spend my entire lunch hours walking down Shaftsbury Avenue to Bill Lewington's, the music store, and just staring at the horns. I just had to figure out how to find other people to play with. I discovered The City Literary Institute which on Mondays had a rehearsal band run by Kathy Stobart, so I went along and for the very first time was surrounded by people who loved jazz. I'd never felt anything quite like it. This led to other evening classes and eventually The National Youth Jazz Orchestra, which I played in for about three years and was really an amazing home, a huge source of inspiration and, ultimately, my introduction to professional music.
Defining Modern Jazz
When you match the considerations of music and art you can exactly realize that Chris Hunter is among a handful of today’s performers capable of defining the modern jazz equation. I would compare his albums to beautiful paintings by Turner, or books by Somerset Maugham. This is the exact opposite to imitation-- it's the fact and fiction of life. Listening to Chris Hunter takes you one step closer to seeing the difference.
Chris Hunter Quartet: Bop City
© 2009, Peter “Pepe” Greenaway
Bop City is Chris Hunter’s new quartet album with one of his own tunes, “Nami,” four compositions by bassist Alex Blake, and three arrangements of standards, “Too High,” “Little Sunflower” and “Love for Sale.” Definitely, the compositional quality of Chris’s playing has found a form in the consummate abilities of this band.
The group has a depth which I’m starting to feel is difficult for engineers to reproduce. Alex alone is the only link left to the days of Impulse, having recorded at 17 with Sun Ra during an age when this kind of sensitivity was recorded over months rather than days, proving it’s not a one-stop shop and it’s not only a question of $3000 mics. In this case a fine technician was called upon to record and master the project, Manfred Knoop at Knoop music studios, New Jersey so we’re nearer to the kind of production it takes to get quality masters.
The album opens with “The Chief,” written by Alex Blake, whose percussive lines build a beautiful creative sense within the precinct of Bop City. And wired in parallel is Chris’s versatility and latent compositional inflections of Bebop and the era of change. The drumming of Victor Jones is volatile, and breaths originality on every selection. Leader of Culture-Versy and an alum of the most soulful Lou Donaldson band (1975), he has also toured with Stan Getz. Victor opens Chris’ lead tenor sound, the drum kit being the only instrument matching the volume of the saxophone.
“For the Children” is the next original composition, played on flute at a fast, even swing tempo. Although re-emerging long after the jazz of London’s best Be-Bop era master, Tubby Hayes, this track still links us to Tubby in his hey day, clear and articulated, reminding us that Chris’s flute is on an equal footing with soprano, tenor, and alto.
“Peaceful Moments” is also an Alex Blake composition and takes us from a modern outback mood carried by pianist Ted Cruz’s melodic tonality into the world of soprano sax. We become aware of the expanse of American music and the wealth of experience of the band on this album. Chris is especially well able to work through the styles we find on these tracks, from Bill Evans’ Miles Davis period to “Now’s the Time,” where we hear him (on tenor) take on Brecker’s legacy as only he could.
On Hunter’s composition “Nami,” the complexities are infused by Ted Cruz, whose left hand roots the 5- octave stretch between the double bass root notes and Chris’ soprano. Alex Blake adds a moving delicate insistence, weaving a texture close to those he builds with pianist Randy Weston.
The cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Too High” features Chris’s altissimo alto (I’m afraid you can’t buy one of these at the shop either). It’s years ahead and really stunning. I haven’t heard anyone hit harmonics like this. If like me you were wondering where its going since Sanborn’s backstreet album or Brecker’s cityscape album; its going digital!
The other feature and equally excellent is “Love for Sale,” and it’s really got me thinking [of earlier versions of the tune], but I’m not giving away the plot. I’ll let you listen to Bop City and find out for yourself. It’s very satisfying to hear people of this calibre together. If they ride and weather today’s storms of controversy, it’s definitely the band to watch.