Copperopolis is the latest from Charlie Hunter's working trio with reedman John Ellis and drummer Derrek Phillips. It's a departure in that Ellis plays not only tenor sax and bass clarinet but also Wurlitzer and melodica, adding harmonic detail and even the occasional touch of melancholy. There's a melodic, songwriter sensibility evident on "Frontman," "Blue Sock" and even the minor-key second-line groove "Swamba Redux." But Hunter foregrounds his irreverent jazz-funk side from the start of "Cueball Bobbin'," with a coarse, blown-speaker guitar sound that nods in the direction of hard rock.
Ellis brings bass clarinet moodiness to "Drop the Rock" and proves himself an able keyboard soloist on the obliquely countryish "A Street Fight Could Break Out." Phillips locks up tightly with Hunter's fat bass lines, particularly on the cowritten duo track "The Pursuit Package" (which segues very abruptly into "Street Fight"). The closing "Think of One," a persuasive Monk cover, reminds us that whatever its eclecticism, Hunter's trio has the beating heart of a jazz group--one that's particularly good at combining studio resourcefulness with live energy.