Charlie Hunter’s musical style, and tastes, know no boundaries.
He’s often categorized as a jazz guitarist but is the first to admit that a lot jazz fans would disagree with that categorization. And rock and pop fans would likely think Hunter’s style is too offbeat for their tastes.
So it makes sense that Hunter’s latest recordings feature instrumental covers of songs from four very different artists spanning about 60 years of music history: Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Hank Williams and The Cars.
With his frequent collaborator, jazz drummer Scott Amendola, Hunter this year put out four EPs, each with five songs from one of those artists. (All four EPs are available on a single CD as well.) Some of the covers are instantly recognizable, like the slowed-down twang of Williams’ “Move It On Over.” But others, like The Cars’ “Bye, Bye Love,” seem as if they were merely inspired by the original.
“I was just looking for great songs to play that tell a story. And if there’s some flashy guitar-playing involved, great,” said Hunter, 47. “Music should involve you, there should be a narrative, whether there are vocals or not. That’s what we tried to do with these songs.”
Hunter and Amendola will bring their unique brand of musical storytelling to Portland Friday with a show at One Longfellow Square. The pair has about 100 songs they’ve done together, so Hunter says it’s hard to predict how many songs from The Cars, Porter, Williams or Ellington they might play.
“We just go and play and hopefully can commune with the audience,” said Hunter.
Hunter had an unusually guitar-centric upbringing in Berkeley, California. His mother was a serious guitar player and made a living repairing guitars at a music store. One of the guitar teachers at that store, from whom Hunter took lessons, was Joe Satriani.
Satriani would go on to be one of the best rock guitarists of his generation, making his own music and playing in other people’s bands. He’s a multiple Grammy winner.
“It seems strange now to say Joe Satriani was my guitar teacher, but he was just a guitar teacher then,” said Hunter. “I grew up all around guitars. I was pretty lucky.”
Probably because he was tutored by serious guitar players, Hunter was drawn at an early age to players who didn’t have hit records but were considered legendary among musicians. So he found himself listening to a lot of music by jazz guitarists Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery, folk guitarist Joseph Spence and bluesman Blind Blake.
At 18, Hunter moved to Paris and played guitar on the streets, busking eight to 12 hours a day. When he came back to the U.S. in the early 1990s, he played for a while with Michael Franti’s The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. He soon started recording his own albums, including several on the Blue Note label and has put out about one solo record every year ever since.
He’s also done many collaborations, including three with Amendola.
Hunter and Amendola first began playing together in the band T.J. Kirk in the early 1990s. The band’s name is a clue to the band’s music: the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
This year, Hunter and Amendola released their four EPs one at a time. Hunter said they didn’t want to make one album of 10 or 12 songs by one artist, so they felt like the “old-fashioned” format of a five-song EP would work well.
The Cars songs include “Candy-O,” “Good Times Roll” and “Let’s Go,” while the Williams covers include “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Cold, Cold Heart” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” The Ellington and Porter songs make a little more sense in the hands of jazz musicians, but still, in the hands of Hunter and Amendola, they become new entities.
Hunter knows his style is hard for some people to embrace because they can’t easily classify it. But that’s OK with him.
“There’s a wide range of the guitar vernacular in everything I do,” said Hunter. “I know a real serious jazz guy would probably say I’m not a jazz guitarist, and a rock guy would probably say I’m not a rock guitarist, stylistically. It’s really not that important to me.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $15 in advance; $20 day of the show