Gospel roots infuse modern jazz as often as the more celebrated route of classical training, and drummer McClenty Hunter Jr. displays a sacred understatement on his debut as a leader, The Groove Hunter. The nine-song disc features four Hunter originals, creative cover interpretations, and an ace core band with special guests, all showcasing the drummer’s Baltimore church upbringing, training with percussive educational icons Grady Tate and Carl Allen, and influences from Elvin Jones to Max Roach to Roy Haynes.
Hunter isn’t flashy often here, but shows his fire early on a burning opening reading of Herbie Nichols’ “Blue Chopsticks,” trading fours with pianist Eric Reed that mimic his melodic lines. Wayne Shorter’s subsequent “The Big Push” downshifts, featuring the added horn section of alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, tenorist Stacy Dillard, and trumpeter Eddie Henderson, and setting up listeners for Hunter’s often pensive original material.
The 6/8-time swing number “Autumn” features solos by Reed, Dillard, and bassist Corcoran Holt; “My Love” switches from Hunter’s sparse playing during a ballad intro to full-on percolation. The lyrical “I Remember When” is a showcase for the drummer’s brushwork, and “Give Thanks” subtly closes the disc with Hunter using mallets on his toms for accents.
In between, guitarist Dave Stryker (whose band has featured Hunter for the past several years) joins for a unique shuffle run through Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl.” Hunter’s only other big moments come on the searing “Countdown” by John Coltrane: an unaccompanied, Elvin-inspired intro and subsequent sonic push as he and Harrison feed off each other. It’s a rare, breakneck four minutes in an otherwise less-is-more outing. All proving that this young, versatile drummer may have a long solo career arc.Originally Published