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Charlie Hunter/Leon Parker: Duo

Guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Leon Parker have been busy redefining the possibilities of their respective instruments, not by expanding the technical, but by stripping back to essentials and practicing new degrees of self-reliance-Hunter handling both bass and guitar duties on his 8-string instrument, and Parker coaxing a lot of music from a few instruments. So it makes sense, on some level, that they would join forces in duet. Duo deserves respect for effort and its refreshing innovation, but the parts don’t always add up to more than the whole.

Sometimes, Hunter’s role-juggling gets the best of him, considering the practical limitations of having to hold down the bass fort-in a fairly rudimentary way-and being chained to a narrow range of hand positioning. Traditional jazz guitarists are free to explore the range of the fretboard: Hunter has the bass alter ego to worry about. He approaches cover material in stark, less-is-presumably-more ways. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” emerges as a tremolo-laden, modal-cum-Delta-esque brooder. “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” one of Brian Wilson’s most inspired compositions, and one deserving of a jazz treatment that respects its harmonic daring, but Hunter explores no chordal possibilities, and the spareness suddenly translates into a conspicuous nakedness. The best moments come in the four-fisted embrace of a groove, as on “Mean Streets” and “The Spin Seekers” -the themes are simple and angular, the energy lean and feisty. Missteps aside, Hunter remains a promising young guitarist, but whose moves along the path to self-discovery are always worth checking out.

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