Wednesday, April 11, 2018

McClenty Hunter Jr.'s The Groove Hunter

What do you want to know about this McClenty Hunter Jr. fellow? That he's been a big part of the New York City jazz scene over the last decade? That he's one of those contemporary jazz drummers who's also a composer and arranger, which sounds rarer than it actually is? That talented jazz guitarist Dave Stryker took McClenty under his wing and taught him a few things about production and decided that this new CD, The Groove Hunter, would introduce an original, exciting new force to the world of jazz?

I'm sure all of that is true, or at least partially true. All I can tell you is that I stuck this in my CD player, pressed play and immediately said "wow." Hunter, who has played in Stryker's trio for the last eight years, has put out a classic jazz album. By classic I mean old-fashioned, something Rudy Van Gelder might have recorded fifty years ago. That's surprising since Stryker is a thoroughly modern jazz performer. He can do classic as well, but he's more comfortable in his own space playing a mean and edgy electric guitar in order to create a jazz that's just a few doors down from the blues. But The Groove Hunter is different. Perhaps it'll remind you of Cannonball Adderley's Something Else, all soft and lyrical in its inspiration. Perhaps Stacy Dillard's up-front sax will remind you of Coltrane or Wayne Shorter. The point is, this is the kind of jazz that sounds like it was discovered in a vault somewhere. It has the Blue Note sound coming out of its pores.

I know--this is Hunter's album and not Stryker's, and that's why it sounds so different than Stryker's last few albums. Hunter seems to be a traditionalist, which is what draws this music out from the past. He covers Shorter's "The Big Push," Coltrane's "Countdown" and Herbie Nichols' "Blue Chopsticks" with a proper degree of reverence and even trots out a beautiful version of Stevie Wonder's "That Girl" that might have been covered by one of the great jazz ensembles of yore. He blends in a few of his own compositions in a smooth, surreptitious way that makes it all flow. He does all the right things, and best of all he's the drummer. That means he's keeping time, providing the momentum and letting his cohorts --Dillard, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Corcoran Holt, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and a few special guests including Stryker--take their turn in the spotlight.

Listening casually, you might assume that McClenty's playing the sax, or the piano. That's how generous he is with that spotlight. But scoot forward and listen to his percussion. He's soft, he's dynamic, he's the musical center even when he's hanging back. In fact, Hunter is known for the exquisite way he handles the brushes, with shuffle grooves that have deep layers of decay. Fortunately, the recording is wonderful and captures all these details in a sweet, open way. And when Hunter starts letting it rip, your heart will start pounding. This is an exciting album, full of beauty as well as fire; it's old-fashioned in the best way imaginable.

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