Charlie Hunter and Nels Cline play the Boulder Theater
"Excuse me sir, can I help you find something?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Well which seats are you supposed to be in?"
"Seats? What do you mean?"
"This is the reserved seating section, you have to have a special ticket to sit down here."
"Oh, no problem. I'm not going to sit, I'm here to take pictures of the band."
"Sorry, you can't do that either. Well you can, but you have to stay behind this line," he pointed to the railing separating the front half of the theater, two large sections usually empty of chairs and full of dancing, drinking revelers, from the back half of the theater. "We can't have you standing in front of anyone."
"I'll kneel, I mean it's not even half full down there."
The Nels Cline Singers finished the song they were working on and Nels introduced the rest of the band, Devin Hoff on the contrabass and Scott Amendola on the drums and "electronics." I rolled my eyes visibly at the guy guarding the line, and retreated to take my seat back with the peasants, many of whom were resolved to stand even if it meant standing all the way back at the bar. Then, as people tend to do when they stand and drink, and aren't immediately involved in the goings on, they started to talk, and talk louder as more people arrived and filled in the gaps. It was an unfortunate thing to do to a perfectly good concert, everyone knows live music is best enjoyed on your feet and moving around, but for reasons unclear to me, we where made to sit. I am like a shark – if I stop moving I'll die. No matter how interested I was in what transpired on stage last Friday night, I couldn't keep myself from yawing, and leaning hard against the railing in front of me, the same railing that divided the $20 ticket holders from the $25 ticket holders, keeping the peasants, as it were, confined to the back of the theater. Fortunately, the music was hot enough to keep me conscious, if bleary eyed.
The Nels Cline singers were playing again, ironically without singing a single word. If you know the name Nels Cline, you're probably a Wilco fan. Recently recognized in Rolling Stone magazine's article on the "New Guitar Gods," Cline has his agile fingers in a bevy of other projects, and this particular one is not really anything like Wilco, drastically different in fact. Nels Cline has a flare for experimentation, and is praised as highly as a Jazz artist as he is a rock and roller. The Nels Cline singers play a mix of jazz, improvisational and experimental, rock, psychedelic, and even grunge, all during the course of any given single song. A jazzy entrance, for example, would give way to an improvised bass solo, which faded into a flurry of lead guitar and distortion. As the solo built, it would become angrier and heavier, cruncher and more dissonant, until the piece climaxed in a Nirvana-esque torrent of sharp, high-pitched, and only vaguely musical noise. The next piece would come on sounding like a thrashy punk rock tune, but with jazz-toned arpeggios thrown into the mix, then timing and rhythm would suddenly change, and you'd be in the middle of a Hendrix-style bridge that would have gone well played against a swirling, kaleidoscopic tie-dye background. It was possibly one of the boldest blends of genres I have ever seen.
The Charlie Hunter Trio came on just in time. Since the Nels Cline Singers left the stage I had nothing to listen to or to watch, and without these things I had been falling asleep in my chair. I suspect however, that if I had actually fallen asleep, I would have been very surprised when I awoke. The Charlie Hunter Trio is, obviously, a three-man band. Yet, with your eyes closed, you could easily believe there were at least four people on stage. The secret lies in Charlie Hunter's unique guitar. Baring eight strings, three of which are configured to play bass notes, this hybrid instrument allows Hunter to play both guitar and bass at the same time. The fact that Hunter is an exceptionally capable finger picker and an adept improviser only adds to the excitement of his act.
The guitar itself is the result of a collaboration between Hunter and Ralph Novak of Novax Guitars. Some say it's the fact that Charlie Hunter's head contains two brains that allows him to play such an instrument, and some say its because he came to earth on a meteor (actually, I made that last one up, but the first one has in fact been said of Hunter). Whatever his gifts, Charlie Hunter is an incredibly prolific musician, with 17 "Trio" albums to date, and is well respected as one of the most innovative jazz artists around today. He surrounds himself with talented people as well, to fill out the band's sound. In his current lineup are Erik Deutsch on piano and keys, and Simon Lott on drums and percussion.
The Charlie Hunter Trio played two full sets of music on Friday night. After the first set, I snuck up front into the "no sit" zone, and sat quietly in the front row to snap a few pictures. I must have been seen, not being by nature a very sly or covert type of a person, but fortunately no one seemed to care at that point. Close enough then to see the looks on the musicians faces, I was convinced that they would be playing just as fervently if there were a thousand people in the theater, and still if there were only two or three - they seemed to love playing that much. With Hunter's eyes often locked on one of the other members of the trio, or flickering back and forth between the two, passing coded glances all the while, I gathered that the bulk of what was played that night was made up on the spot. With each successful jump from one thread to the next, the band broke out in a trio of ear to ear to smiles, nodding their heads in marked approval as the crowd did the same. But then again, since the trio never tripped up and never missed a beat, no one ever had anything to frown about.
...except the seating.
And a special thanks to Sarah at the Boulder Theater for her continued hospitality.