Charlie Hunter & Scott Amendola | HopMonk Tavern Novato | 3/27/2024

Article Contributed by Gabriel David Barkin | Published on Friday, March 29, 2024

Here’s guitarist Charlie Hunter, live on stage at HopMonk Tavern Novato this week, speaking for himself and drummer Scott Amendola.

We can still get excited at our age.”

They have much to be excited about!

Charlie Hunter | Novato, CA

If you haven’t seen Charlie Hunter play, you might not have experienced the cognitive dissonance that underscores his genius. Standing in the back of a crowded club, you’ll hear his impressive jazz guitar licks. You’ll also hear the steady funk bass that provides a consistent counterpoint. Fair enough, you’ll say. Sounds like a good band. A really good band.

But it’s not until you saunter up (or claw your way up, if it’s crowded) to the front of the stage that it dawns on you: the guy playing those complex melodic leads… is also playing the bass lines. At the same time. On the same instrument.

Charlie Hunter | HopMonk Tavern

If you look closer, you’ll see his Ralph Novak eight-string solid-body guitar has two cords, one running to a guitar amp and one to a bass cabinet. And then you’ll start looking at his fingers, and – well, it’s indescribable. It’s like he’s got two brains and four hands.

How the heck does he do it?

And the whole time, he’s got an ear-to-ear shit-eating grin. (Except when it turns into a comical old prospector’s scowl.)

Scott and I have been playing together for 30 years. Not every day, but… you know.”

Scott Amendola | Novato, CA

In the 90s, Amendola and Hunter were fixtures on the Bay Area music landscape. Their band T.J. Kirk, with Will Bernard and John Schott rounding out the quartet on guitars, was in the vanguard of the avant-garde jazz funk scene. Known and named for their oeuvre of songs by James Brown, Thelonious Monk, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. They had to change their name when the owners of the rights to the "Star Trek" empire threatened lawsuits over the original moniker "James T. Kirk."

In the years since, Amendola has played with a cavalcade of luminaries in many genres, including Nels Cline, Tony Furtado, and Phil Lesh. He remains one of the go-to drummers for NorCal jam-adjacent jazz world.

Scott Amendola | Novato, CA

Together, Hunter and Amendola are a formidable pair.

You can’t deny their chops: Amendola studied at Berklee School of Music in Boston, while Berkeley CA high schooler Hunter took lessons from guitar hero Joe Satriani. Put them together and it’s more than the sum of its parts; there’s magic and passion in the air. They thrive on music, and it seems like they love each other as well. After nearly every song, they fist-bumped.

Charlie Hunter & Scott Amendola | HopMonk Tavern Novato

For two lengthy sets at HopMonk Tavern, Amendola and Hunter traded solo spotlights and floated on each other’s blissful and sublime riffs and rhythms. Hunter’s face alternated between his winking Cheshire Cat grin and his teeth-gritting, eye-squinting grimace. Amendola was perennially on the verge of laughter.

They covered the gamut from soul to bluesy jazz standards to the Beatles (“You Can’t Do That”). A very bluesy, slowed-down version of an Amendola original teased “Natty Dread” to fulfill a request shouted from the audience.

Scott Amendola | HopMonk Tavern Novato

Charlie Hunter | HopMonk Tavern Novato

There was a set list on the stage, but it was more like a “serving suggestion”; the duo hopscotched through the list, skipping some, adding others, and doing nothing in order. The first song on the list was Lorde’s “Royals,” but they saved that for the encore. Many of the audience members joined in on the chorus to sing the words that Hunter was enunciating with his fluid picking.

Amendola’s frequent percussion solos were a particular delight. His playful circuits around the surfaces of his drum kit were entrancing journeys, ever light and airy, sometimes silly, and always inventive.

Scott Amendola & Charlie Hunter | Novato, CA

The old friends wrapped their own music and the plethora of covers in a unique blend of improvised grooviness and goofiness and tied it all together with mad skills. Two cats makin’ music, joyful the sound. A sold-out crowd took the vibe home with them.