Talking Only Makes It Worse (2003)
by: Jeffrey Fishman
know what you’re thinking, “How impressive
can a quartet of three guitars and one drummer playing
only cover songs actually be.” Well,
if one of those guitar players is the brilliant, unequaled
talent of Charlie Hunter, and the covers are of the legendary
Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rashaan Roland Kirk,
you need only listen to a few seconds of their performance
before feeling foolish for even considering the question.
Fans of Charlie Hunter will need no convincing on this
matter. If you are not familiar with the genius of this
revolutionary axe man, it’s about time you woke
up and asked somebody! I’ll try to explain briefly,
but you can never fully appreciate what the man is all
about until you’ve seen him play up close. Close
enough to watch his fingers; for that is the only way
you’ll believe that one man is responsible for all
of that music.
Charlie Hunter, by far the most glaring omission to Rolling
Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitar players
of all time, has invented, and over the last decade perfected,
a new instrument – the eight-string guitar. Combining
three bass strings and five guitar strings on one custom
made axe, Hunter deftly lays down funky bass lines while
alternating between beautifully harmonic rhythms and mesmerizing
solos reminiscent of jazz legend Wes Montgomery. Yes,
simultaneously. You have to see it to believe it.
Talking Only Makes It Worse, released on Ropeadope
records in late 2003 and available only on the Internet,
is an instrumental jazz lover’s dream come true.
This is a live recording from 1997 in Santa Cruz, CA that
closely reflects the performances on Kirk’s two
mid-90’s Warner Bros. releases. The self-titled
1995 debut and 1996’s Grammy-nominated If Four
Was One act not only to showcase Hunter’s skills
but also feature the talents of fellow guitar slingers
Will Bernard and John Schott as they take turns shredding
solos over the steady beats of Scott Amendola on the skins.
On display for all to hear is the ability of these four
exceptional musicians to interpret and re-orchestrate
classic compositions from some of the true masters of
jazz and funk.
The James Brown covers, most notably, "Soul Power,
Damn Right I Am Somebody" and "The Pay Back"
really demonstrate that Hunter has more talent in his
right thumb than most of us have in our entire bodies
as he effortlessly navigates through some of the funkiest
bass lines ever recorded. The album opens with "Soul
Power," which begins as a frenetic paced, straight
ahead jazz version, before settling into a nice cozy groove
as Hunter takes his solo. "Damn Right" and "Pay
Back" continue to feature Charlie’s ability
to play with two brains showing off his simultaneous bass
and harmonic rhythm guitar prowess as Bernard and Schott
exchange equally impressive spotlight performances. "Get
On The Good Foot/Rock Hard In A Funky Place" starts
out with a delightful calypso groove before kicking into
a more traditional funky jazz treatment.
The true standouts on this album are the treatments of
the Thelonious Monk compositions. Monk’s brilliance
as a composer is reaffirmed throughout the recording.
"Bemsha Swing" is left almost unchanged, and
rightfully so. This bouncy, jazzy cover does Monk’s
original extreme justice. The quartet’s interpretation
of "Epistrophy" demonstrates its versatility.
The track begins, again, closely mimicking the Monk version,
slow and delicate with Amendola tapping out rhythms on
his rims. Midway the rhythm changes up and the song takes
on a Bluegrass feel, before playing a rapid fire set of
classic rock guitar riff interpolations including, but
not limited to Aqualung, Barracuda, Rock & Roll, and
Iron Man. "Cross The Track/Thelonious" is a
clear example of the interplay of Bernard and Schott,
who skillfully handle the dual lead guitar roles playing
in perfect unison throughout the album.
One regret is that there is but one full Rashaan Roland
Kirk composition included in the concert. The two studio
albums included much more from this lesser known jazz
great, who is also prone to play numerous instruments
at once. "Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful
Edith" is the lone ballad on this record and is a
very tender treatment by a three soloists backed up by
Amendola’s artistic brushwork.
As far as live recordings go, the sound quality is exceptional.
As many of the songs flow into one another there are only
a couple of breaks for applause. And aside from a brief
interlude to tell the crowd of the previous nights performance
in Petaluma at a “patchouli naked barbecue”
and inciting the crowd to chant about “Santa Cruz
soul food” (i.e., spirolina, wheat grass juice,
and bee pollen), you might even think this was a studio
Talking Only Makes It Worse in most cases more resembles
a studio album than a live performance it only makes me
regret never having seen this quartet live. T. J. Kirk
did reunite for two nights in December 2003 in San Francisco
but there was no tour. One can only hope that the CD or
DVD from those performances don’t also take six
years to release as the liner notes chide. But until then
Talking Only Makes It Worse is available at charliehunter.com
or can be downloaded at ropeadope.com.