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Marley spirit livelies up Hunter's interpretation

Natty Dread
Natty Dread
By the Charlie Hunter Quartet

Blue Note Records: 1997

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This review first appeared in the July 26, 1997 edition of the American Reporter.

As further evidence of how long a shadow the late Bob Marley still casts, please consider Exhibit A, the new CD from jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter. Part of Blue Note's "Cover Series," in which the Capitol subsidiary's artists remake classic pop albums in a jazz vein, Hunter has tackled Marley's 1975 best-seller "Natty Dread."

Perhaps it shouldn't seem surprising, but Marley's genius went far beyond performing – in Hunter's hands Marley's songs show remarkable complexity and depth.

As dozens of Beatles "tributes" have proven, the only way to make a project like this work is to take it in a completely different direction – which Hunter and Co. do. Check out the solo guitar intro to "No Woman, No Cry," where Hunter playfully interjects the theme from "Tennessee Waltz" before segueing into a very low-key straight-ahead reading of Marley's hit.

On much of the album, a large share of the load falls on saxophonists Calder Spanier (alto) and Kenny Brooks (tenor), who often take what would be the vocal leads on their horns. They both shine throughout, playing with a funky looseness that reflects the spirit of Marley's music without trying to copy it.

What makes this album work so well (it's easily the best of the first three in Blue Note's "Cover Series") is that Hunter and his Quartet take so many musical chances – they're all over the jazz map, running from, as mentioned, straight-ahead to some pretty hard fusion to more avant-garde. All of it swings like crazy, the band (rounded out by drummer Scott Amendola) keeps a fever pitch on every cut, and the songs themselves keep yielding new treasures to the fresh treatment.