- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

No one will ever accuse jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter of being conventional. For one thing, he is the only musician in the world who plays an eight-string guitar. But it is the way he intermingles musical styles and changes the configurations of his bands that really makes him stand out.
"I just like to change it up to keep it exciting for myself and for the audience," Mr. Hunter says. Tomorrow night when he takes the stage at the Birchmere, he will bring yet another interesting new band grouping, one that should create a different sound.
"What you guys are going to see there is this quintet I've put together with harmonica, trombone, tenor saxophone and drums," he says. "It should be a lot of fun."
Mr. Hunter will anchor the band with his one-of-a-kind guitar and unique guitar style. The guitar is handmade and combines the six strings of a standard guitar and two strings from a bass guitar. Mr. Hunter sometimes plays both an intricate bass part and a lead-guitar part at the same time as technically difficult as it is unusual. The technique is involved, and he is still perfecting it after eight years of playing the eight-string version and for four or five years before that of experimenting with a seven-string version.
Unlike most jazz musicians, Mr. Hunter has no old masters to study under. Only one other class of jazz instrument allows the playing of both bass and lead lines at the same time a keyboard. Mr. Hunter has dissected the work of Hammond organ greats such as Jimmy Smith and Big John Patton and has developed a sound for his guitar that is reminiscent of a Hammond organ.
"I think I have an affinity for that kind of sound," Mr. Hunter says, "but just because it's a guitar it also has its own particular, unique little way of making it sound like that."
Early on, Mr. Hunter was into everything from blues to rockabilly to funk to soul, but by age 18 he had discovered the bebop jazz of Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian and John Coltrane. Jazz became his focus, but he didn't give up his interest in other music. He even spent time on a stadium concert tour with a hip-hop band.
The rock scene didn't fit Mr. Hunter's view of music, and he left the band in search of a more jazz-oriented sound. His funky blend of urban jazz and jazz rock has attracted a younger crowd. The music Mr. Hunter plays is clearly jazz, but the genre-blending, guitar-driven, rhythm-heavy sound appeals to a wider audience that isn't typically interested in jazz.
His first album on Blue Note in 1995, "Bing, Bing, Bing," included a jazz version of a song by grunge star Kurt Cobain, and Mr. Hunter's band was invited to join two Lollapalooza alternative rock tours. Mr. Hunter has recorded seven albums since the '95 release.
None has had the same sound or the same musicians. Several them have included at least one horn player, but two albums dropped the horn sound. Percussion and drums have always been important to Mr. Hunter, and the albums have had as many as three percussionists. There is a solo guitar album and one that reinterprets a Bob Marley album.
Charlie Hunter likes being able to change and grow musically while entertaining his fans. "I've built my whole reality on that, " Mr. Hunter says, "changing everything around. That's the beauty of what I do."

Another band that has made a career out of stretching and combining genres is the three-time Grammy winner Los Lobos. What the Neville Brothers are to New Orleans, Los Lobos is to East Los Angeles. Just four high school pals when they formed the band almost 30 years ago, in 1973, they are celebrating 25 years of recording with the release of their album, "Good Morning Aztlan." The band will certainly play some cuts from this strong album when it plays the early show at the 9:30 Club on Saturday.
But this will not be just any ordinary album tour; Los Lobos is legendary for its hard-charging, rhythm-driven shows. Although all its albums show off the band's mix of blues, rock 'n' roll, folklorica, soul, Tex-Mex and Latin dance music, they pull out all the stops for concerts. That can include their originals, such as the power blues of the new "Hearts of Stone," and the classic rocker "Will The Wolf Survive."
But they have also put their stamp on everything from Bruce Springsteen's "Johnny 99" to Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" (their one real hit, recorded for the movie of the same name). So put on your dancing shoes.

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