The best thing Joe Satriani ever did was give Charlie Hunter guitar lessons: this new record, cut with Hunter's first trio in nearly a decade, features Hunter working overtime on his eight-stringer to fill in for an absent bass player; though double-duty prevents Hunter from crawling around traditional jazz bass lines, he makes up for it with funk rhythms as accessible as they are creative. But what really makes Friends so strong is the other members of Hunter's trio. John Ellis (tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute) and Derrek Phillips (drums) aren't just background session players: when Hunter's guitar strays toward rock and blues, Ellis' horns stroll deeper into jazz, but somehow, the tension never sounds dissonant. In fact, Friends works best when the two players are pulling each other in opposite directions—"Running in Fear From Imaginary Assailants" opens with Hunter's answer to "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" until it's chased down by Ellis' Sonny Rollins tenor. And Phillips' drums are the perfect foil for Hunter's two strings of bass; he's fond of odd signatures like Blakey, but prefers his snare and bass to his ride cymbal like Bonham, lending that much more push to Hunter and Ellis' pull. Each of Friends' fantastic tracks turn on this sort of genre blending, but somehow, Hunter's trio doesn't leave a smudge anywhere.
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