Charlie Hunter & Scott Amendola
Sunday September 8, 2013 @ 7:00 PM
Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead, the renowned guitarist/composer Charlie Hunter's new duo recording with drummer Scott Amendola, is an album that's easy to get behind. A complete departure from last year's Public Domain -- a true solo album -- and the previous year's Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid -- which incorporated two trombones and trumpet into Hunter's instrumental arsenal -- Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead (Release Date: October 2, 2012) is Hunter's first recording of original compositions in three years. It's also, perhaps, his most candid and forthright set of songs ever.
"Our intention in making this record was to tell a bunch of stories around the central theme of the album's title,” says Hunter. "The new tunes are meant to evoke some of the things you might see in your travels through the USA these days. Scott and I wanted to think of each composition as a starting point for some kind of narrative."
Recorded with Hunter and Amendola playing in the same room simultaneously -- an old-school recording method that has been virtually lost in today's cut-and-paste world -- Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead was written by Hunter while at home, inspired by his touring. "I love the nooks and crannies of the U.S., and this album is for the people living in these places."
"One of the best elements of this new album is that we didn't use any headphones," adds Amendola. "We could hear everything naturally and acoustically. No mixing and no fixing, straight to 1/4-inch tape. It sounds incredible. My drums haven't sounded this good ever. Everything sounded just as you were naturally playing it."
Lauded studio engineer Dave McNair comments, "Dynamic subtlety is not very common on most modern records, but I wanted to present that to the listener in a way that makes you feel like you are sitting in front of the musicians. I think we succeeded. All of the songs were recorded live to two track analog tape, no overdubs, no editing. Just 100% live groove and vibe, no added artificial ingredients, and no mixing. There are not a lot of musicians that can pull it off this way, but Charlie and Scott are not only up to it, they THRIVE it that environment!"
AllAboutJazz.com wasn't kidding when it wrote that Charlie Hunter "can be counted on to shake things up every couple of discs," and Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead certainly gives things a good stir. "I really tried to just let it be whatever it was going to be," he says, "taking elements from what I like -- blues, jazz, R&B -- and putting them together to make a duo record." At the core, of course, is Hunter's always-spellbinding guitar work. The Guardian (U.K.) proclaimed that Hunter possesses "one of the most original techniques in the instrument's history" while JazzTimes said Charlie is "a remarkably deep musician who is devoted to the tradition of his instrument in all of its applications: blues, folk, rock, reggae, country and jazz."
Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead leads off with a track whose title is as much of a pretzel as the album's: "Assessing the Assessors, An Assessor's Assessment." The song came about, Hunter says, after "I was talking with one of my friends here in New York City and some pundit came on the radio yapping... There is a whole group of people who get paid to ramble on about the world and politics, but I'd rather hear people talking about baseball; they are actually experts. The mood of the song fits with this. When we were growing up there were three TV stations, and there would only be one person yapping. Now there is an entire class of people, the pundit class, who are not actual experts in what they are talking about."
"Rust Belt" follows, and casts an eye on another aspect of today's America. "All of the music on this album is very simple, but it's executed very rhythmically," Hunter says. "I've been touring the country my whole life, and I wrote this song while traveling. It's a shout-out to people that live in places with a real Americana lifestyle -- the Midwest, like Chicago, Detroit, Youngstown, Buffalo -- places that have the whole toughness mentality: get the job done with pride."
"There Used To Be a Nightclub There" laments the vanishing cultural landscape. "Right now there is a passing of a whole era," Hunter says. "I grew up in nightclubs. I gigged first at 15 years old. I watched people that just amazed me. Clubs were hubs of culture, and in a lot of ways they were so spontaneous. You didn't need a grant to keep it open; they were cultural meeting places, and so many great things come out of them. In Berkeley, California, where I grew up, all those places are now gone. It was a town where there was a musician class. Now, you can feel that culture is disappearing."
"The Wizard," says Hunter, "I did on another record. Some of the melody is changed though, and the tempo is now half of what it was. Before, it was called 'Wizard Sleeve': The wizard is out of a job and is pounding the pavement, looking for work."
The title track, says Hunter, is actually the most straightforward: "The title pretty much says it all," he explains. "It's a sign of the times; this is what's going on out there in the world."
Nearly all of the songs on Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead are first takes, played once in the studio and left untouched. "It's about not compromising," says Amendola, who has been playing with Hunter for 20 years. "You do the first take and you are impressed. It was extremely smooth sailing."
"Ghost Mall," the sixth track on the record, "is my favorite title on the album," notes Hunter. "When you are on the road, they are building all these malls, all the time, so fast that the malls built 15 years ago are now being replaced with new malls and the old malls are now becoming abandoned. I grew up with mom and pop stores that no longer exist. Now, all interactions are done on a corporate level at so many places."
"Blind Arthur" was inspired by the blues musician Blind Blake. "He is one of my favorite guitar players," says Hunter. "He lived almost 100 years ago and just traveled around the states playing, making a living as a musician. I wonder what his perspective was 90 years ago when he was touring."
The next track, "Those Desks Aren't Going to Clean Themselves," may have an odd title, but its subject fits right in with the album's real America theme. "I once worked for this great guy, with an awesome work ethic, and we used to clean desks," recalls Charlie. "He would say to us, 'You'd better get to work, those desks aren't gonna clean themselves.' There is an intense corniness to this saying, actually saying something like this out loud, but this concept applies to a lot of things... you gotta work hard."
"Dot Dot Dah," says Hunter, "reminds me of a late '20s kind of standard; it's trying a little too hard to be happy," and finally there's "Economy with Dignity." About that track, Hunter notes, "My engineer Dave McNair said his friend just sent him a picture, from a thrift store called Economy with Dignity. It really resonated with me."
The digital edition of the album also includes a hidden bonus track, a Delta blues tune titled "If You Don't Give Me That."
Summing up the experience of making Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead, Amendola says, "Working with Charlie in the studio, the whole thing was just relaxed. We'd been working on this material live, and it was really fun, kind of interesting. We have been playing music for so long that when you are in the studio, the tape doesn't lie. We work our butts off and we are getting better. I'm excited about where we are at musically. It really comes through on this album."
Hunter is appropriately reflective about the project. "I think about all the great music I like, everything I listen to and try to absorb," he says, "and I ask myself, how can I tell the story with the kind of music that I love?"
The answer doesn't require much pondering at all: He just has, within the grooves of Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead.