Record Review 

It takes an impressively humble musician not to perform on the opening track of his own album. And that's just one of Charlie Hunter's attributes. The nimble and inventive eight-string guitarist who plays bass and lead lines simultaneously could milk that agile angle for the rest of his career. But instead, Hunter's eighth release pushes his elastic musical envelope by adding vocalists to the already eclectic jazz/funk/Brazilian/R&B/ lounge mix. Purists who accuse him of attempting a pop crossover need only hear rapper Mos Def scatting/ improvising over stark syncopated percussion. It's a performance almost as unusual as when Hunter himself actually croons later in the disc. The guitarist also employs Galactic's gritty Theryl deClouet, offbeat NYC jazz/poet Kurt Elling and sweet- voiced newcomer Norah Jones to expand his vision.

Hunter himself takes a backseat on the eight tracks (out of 13) that feature singers, but his unique styling is felt throughout. Creative covers of Roxy Music's "More Than This" and Nick Drake's "Day is Done" -- both sung by Jones, whose sensitive voice is a revelation -- as well as deClouet's take on Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" and Earth, Wind & Fire's "Mighty Mighty," are each worth the price of admission on their own. They share time with Hunter's rhythm-heavy original instrumentals that mix free-form lines with edgy funk flavors.

Comfortable in his position as ringmaster, Hunter hovers over the proceedings, occasionally darting into the mix but never hogging the spotlight. Like the professional he is, the bandleader understands that, regardless of whose name graces the album's sleeve, knowing when not to play is as much a talent as his jaw-dropping guitar display.

Charlie Hunter plays EarthLink Live Mon., Nov. 12.


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