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Club notes
Bruno Råberg, Charlie Hunter, the Beat Circus, and Patricia Barber do it live

Jazz economics are such that if you can get a nonet together to record complex, labor-intensive arrangements, youíll probably advertise a slightly different band to play your CD-release party three years later, and yet a slightly different line-up from that will play the gig. Such was the case with Bruno Råberg, whose Chrysalis was recorded in Berkleeís Studio A in 2001 and has just been released on Orbis Music. At Ryles a week ago last Wednesday, Råberg brought together a band slightly different from either the one on the CD or the one announced in a press release for the show.

It didnít matter. Råberg, who was born in Sweden, began attending the New England Conservatory in 1981, was teaching at Berklee by 1986, and has long since become an ingrained part of the Boston scene, so he knows who to call. And they come. At Ryles, as on the CD, the nonet was framed by trombone (Jeff Galindo) and bass trombone (Robynn M. Amy at Ryles) at one end and Anders Boströmís various flutes at the other. Trumpeter Phil Grenadier sat center stage, as his horn does in much of the music, playing lead lines. Allan Chase and Jeremy Udden played saxophones, and Råberg held down the rhythm section with guitarist Mick Goodrick and drummer Marcello Pellitteri.

Råbergís music moves in subtle, wave-like rhythmic variations through extended song forms colored by warm, pastel harmonies and tone colors. The tension-and-release in those forms comes not necessarily from song-like alterations of verse and chorus but from those shifting rhythms and the play of harmonic progressions. The first setís opener, the CDís title track, had each horn shadow Grenadierís trumpet across a misterioso melody of widely spaced intervals over the triplet rattle of Pellitteriís stick-struck frame drum, then break apart into contrapuntal lines and coalesce for a full-band chord that was like a sudden burst of rainbow-tinted mist.

" Cool But Confusing " (titled after Råbergís daughterís comment on the piece) shifted between a Latin-flavored 11-beat pattern and a straight 4/4. Råbergís set of changes on the lovely " Snowaltz " gave each soloist (including the composer) a chance to blow fresh ideas with a relatively familiar meter. The standard " What Is This Thing Called Love? " was arranged as a collective improvisation, everyone working off little cells of melody, so that the tune itself didnít come into view until Grenadierís out chorus. And everyone dug the earthy hook of the Ornette Coleman blues " Turnaround. "

In the midst of all this, Råberg set up arresting combinations: an alto duet between Chase and Udden, a trio of trombone and alto against guitar. And throughout, Goodrick implied vast harmonic terrain with a single sustained note played behind a soloist, or lightly stroked arpeggios, or piano-like effects played behind Boströmís flute.

GUITARIST CHARLIE HUNTER expands the terrain in another way. Using an eight-string electric guitar, he plays simultaneous bass lines along with his leads and chords. Hunter emerged from the Bay Area scene in the early Ď90s and was lumped in with the " acid jazz " movement, that due as much to the crossover audiences he was playing for as to anything he was doing with the music. He began traveling and recording with a drummer and one or two saxophonists. And though I immediately loved his sound ó big, bold colors, strong grooves, and organ-like effects from his guitar ó he struck me as a better accompanist than soloist. (In my less generous moments, I thought: why not move to a six-string, hire a bassist, and work on those solos?)

But at the Real Deal Jazz club in Cambridge a week ago Wednesday, Hunter, working with the long-time cohort of tenor-saxophonist John Ellis and drummer Derrek Phillips (both on the new Hunter ropeadope CD Friends Seen and Unseen), offered complete satisfaction. He still displays wonderful tonal variety. He might play a chorus or two in a more-or-less straight jazz guitar tone, somewhere between the dulcet glycerin-drop notes of Jim Hall and the steely percussiveness of, say, Pat Martino. After an Ellis solo, heíll come back with a reverby, chorused sound with a watery shimmer, even conjuring a bit of country pedal steel when thatís called for. But since the last time I saw him, Hunterís command as a soloist has also grown. He doesnít necessarily play the long stretches of swing eighth notes that are manna for the traditional jazz fan, but thereís always plenty of action as he works rhythmically off those grooves, playing around with the downbeat, or the little stop-time figures in the arrangements, bending three pitches out of one sustained note and following it up with tossed-off little flamenco flourishes or a series of light triplets up the fretboard.

The band really got cooking on a kind of long free improv at the end of the set (it quoted " One Nation Under a Groove " and " Wade in the Water, " among others), Hunter playing slow-moving melody lines as his free fingers picked all manner of agitated counterlines and harmonies. And his improvisations against Ellisís solos took on an Ornette/Prime TimeĖlike density and freedom. Thereís now meat on them thar grooves.

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Issue Date: October 8 - 14, 2004
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