The Charlie Hunter Trio has been around since the 1990's, but on their new release, Mistico, (their first for Fantasy Records) they've completed a transformation that began with their last album, 2006's Copperopolis. On that effort, the talented guitarist was backed – as always – by drums and sax, but featured a little keyboard experimentation too, something new for the trio.
Now Hunter has completely remade the trio, combining his virtuosity on the eight-string guitar with the keyboards of Erik Deutsch and the drums of Simon Lott to create a new sound, one that moves closer to fusion and a little away from the more traditional jazz of the previous trio. With Hunter's ability to skillfully wield his custom-made guitar, almost seamlessly blending regular and bass parts, the result is a very nice listening experience that provides something for everyone.
Opening the album is "Lady", a melodic song that I liked a lot, although I found Deutsch's keyboard wandering at midpoint to be a little bit of a distraction. Still an enjoyable listen, as was "Speakers Built In", a softly soulful tune with a late guitar solo that sparkles, and one of several cleverly-titled cuts that might or might not have a connection to the music.
I would suspect it's a question only Hunter could answer, but there are some song names that seem pretty obvious — specifically on the funky, rocking "Balls", in which all three musicians show theirs (and I'm sure I'm not the first one to write that). Another possibility is when drummer Lott is showcased on "Spoken Word", as he shows his skill and talent by bring forth some fascinating and unusual sounds — not exactly words, but…
I am stumped though, with the naming of "Chimp Gut", and that probably means I should forget about the detour I've taken into song names, and spend more time describing the music itself. In this case, it's a bouncing beat (like a chimp?) and an infectious melody.
My favorite on the album was probably the title tune, "Mistico", which features some mesmerizing sounds and effects from Hunter's guitar. It seems to almost come alive and give the tune a mystical feel. Of course, the guitarist is the one providing the life, and Hunter is at his best here.
A genre-blending and enticing collection of songs from a newly invigorated Charlie Hunter Trio — highly recommended.