Steve Hunt, Connections Review
Steve Hunt is a forward-thinking jazz pianist, keyboardist, and composer that in addition to performing and touring, also serves as an instructor at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston and runs his own recording studio, The Kitchen (named after his excellent culinary talents). Throughout his career, Hunt has stayed true to an uncompromising vision of composing and performing jazz music from his heart. He continues to push himself technically, compositionally, and stylistically while still focusing on an expressive musical style. After recording and performing with top Boston jazz musicians such as Randy Roos and Tiger Okoshi, and leading his own jazz fusion band, Hunt spent the next ten years on the road with several renowned jazz artists such as Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, Angela Bofill, Tom Brown, and Allan Holdsworth. During this time, Hunt also served as musical director for the famous touring Jazz Explosion. He led the trio, which headlined artists Freddy Hubbard, Gato Barbieri, Stanley Turrentine, Ramsey Lewis, violinist Noel Pointer, Kenny G, and the late Phyillis Hyman. Hunt’s fluid musicality and ability to make challenging music sound effortless are nowhere more evident than his longtime association with Allan Holdsworth. Hunt recorded with Holdsworth on such legendary albums as Secrets, Wardencliff Tower, and Hard Hat Area, as well as featuring Hunt on keyboards, Holdsworth included Hunt’s original tunes “Maid Marion,” “Joshua,” and “Dodgy Boat.” Other noteworthy recording contributions include Stanley Clarke’s CD releases If This Bass Could Only Talk and East River Drive. Hunt is now releasing Connections, inspired by his exploring collaborations with longtime friends who all have noted careers themselves and the universal connection that binds each of us in the universe.
Bottom Line: Connections features nine selections with a revolving all-star cast of players. Each of the songs has diverse instrumentation and musical explorations. “Now’s The Time” is the opening selection, a hip shaped melody and a rhythm section of some of the finest fusion players around create a deft world music beat. With Nate Wood on drums, Jorge Bezerra on percussion, and Etienne Mbappe on bass holding down the Island groove, saxophonist Tucker Antell joins Hunt for the melody. The performers create a hallucinogenic jazz-rock/funk stew with Island garnishes. The sounds are so charmingly idiosyncratic that you know this is the real deal, and the performance will not disappoint. “Prayer For A New Day (Cherokee Morning Song)” builds with anticipation as the various instruments layer in, bassist Jimmy Haslip’s big sound supports the atmosphere of percussion, cymbal swells, and later, vocals chanting the melody. Chad Wackerman and bassist Haslip support Dennis Yerry’s vocal part as Hunt’s prominent keyboards fill the space. The shifting rhythms within the song are natural and never distract from the groove or feel. Again, the combination of jazz fusion and world music is a central theme to Hunt’s imaginative writing style.
“Le Zonage Trois” opens with a powerful drum solo by Billy Cobham before the rest of the band enters with bassist Skuli Sverrisson soloing over Hunt’s richly textured chords and solid keyboard sounds. Once the groove is established, the three trade solo statements in an exciting display of technical power and melodic craftsmanship. The title track ends the project with John Patitucci playing acoustic and electric bass, Casey Scheuerell playing drums, Tucker Antell playing saxophone, Jeff Lockhart on guitar, Bruce Williamson on bass clarinet, and Billy Buss on trumpet. Hunt’s composition is building and develops themes with interesting rhythms and instrumental colors. The song passes the thirteen-minute mark but never loses focus and flows like a mini-suite. Overall, Connections remarkably congeals and presents a set of songs with interlocking themes for a contemporary jazz fusion sound that is a fascinating musical laboratory. Hunt’s control of the music’s DNA allows each player to give surprising strains of modern sounds and colors. The deep groove and interlocking of each ensemble is the source that enables the material to take flight. Hunt has a wise ear for complexities that are put forth in a way that is natural and musically accessible; that’s the short of it!