It's been nearly a decade since Charlie Hunter collaborated with other guitarists (the great T.J. Kirk band of the mid-'90s), but Earth Tones finds him revisiting the format with very different results. T.J. Kirk was a fun band, but there was a bit of shtick involved: they brought an outgoing fusion sensibility (and a good bit of humor) to the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Earth Tones is something far more sublime. Hunter got together with legendary Jamaican guitarists Ernest Ranglin and Chinna Smith for an easygoing set of (mostly) covers that largely tread the kind of Jamaican-flavored jazz that Ranglin's been known for for years. There are some reggae and dub elements here and there, but you'd be hard-pressed to call it a reggae album. Recorded with very few overdubs, the cooperative arrangements are perfect, with plenty of space for everyone and the players almost finishing each other's thoughts. Hunter's guitar always has a bit of Leslie effect on it (remember, he's throwing down the basslines at the same time!), Chinna sticks to acoustic, and Ranglin plays with his trademark clean electric sound, so it's really easy to pick out who's doing what and compare their different styles. Ranglin's fluid melodic lines contrast nicely with Smith, who makes some surprising yet wonderful note choices and wild intervalic leaps in his solos. Sharing the spotlight, there's less of Hunter's soloing than on his "proper" albums, but his playing is always fantastic and he lays down some big fat basslines. Drummer Shawn Pelton is ultra-supportive on drums and contributes tasteful drum programming that sometimes bubbles up from underneath, while session percussionist Manolo Badrena adds just the right accents. This album has the casual feel of a one-off affair, but that certainly doesn't mean it's any less enjoyable than Hunter's myriad other projects. In fact, this would have to rank right up there with his best, although one wouldn't necessarily consider this a Charlie Hunter project; it's a true collaboration. Regardless, putting these guys together was a stroke of genius.
All Music Guide