Guitarist Charlie Hunter continues pursuing a sound built on the textures of Southern rock. On 2006’s Copperopolis, he wedded that style to jazz via John Ellis’ hard-boppish saxophone and bass clarinet; on the impressive Mistico, Hunter drops the reeds (and the bop) entirely, working only with drummer Simon Lott and keyboardist Erik Deutsch, who plays piano, Fender Rhodes and CasioTone.
On his own instrument, Hunter swipes blues wails, and licks, from B.B. King and Duane Allman, but doesn’t actually play any blues on the album. Often just one chord, Mistico’s songs dress up in rock and roll’s rawness (“Speakers Built In”) and power (the aptly titled “Balls”). Hunter, however, solos with jazzy structure and drama, bends notes a la steel guitar, gives Deutsch’s soulful Rhodes room to strut, and adds lots of reverb (resembling Sun Records’ old “slapback” production), transforming the music into ghostly Americana that echoes in roadhouses long gone.
Halfway through the disc, surprises show up. Lott’s drums on “Wizards and Sleeves” play the hardcore funk of James Brown, and the rhythms and atmosphere of “Drop a Dime” could have come from Hunter’s old rap outfit, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Psychedelia creeps into the music, too: Mistico’s title track comprises a basic backbeat, drones from Deutch’s Casio, a Hendrix pastiche from Hunter and spooky musique concrete. It’s this ability to blend styles into something vital, unpredictable and completely individual that earns Hunter his stripes as a jazz musician—don’t let the roots-rock fool you.