I first met Chris Hunter in the Soviet Union, of all places. It was in the summer of 1977, when he was just 20 years old and a member of Britain’s National Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Even in that accomplished band of young veterans he stood out. They were all good, but Chris had something special. It wasn’t simply a technique or confidence; it was a wonderful mixture of passion and ingenuity. The phrases came hurtling out, jostling one another for a hearing, a tumbling flow of ideas which never seemed to get stuck in the works on their way through. After a single concert I was absolutely sure that here was a great natural jazz musician with a technical command far beyond his years.
One night we stood in the clattering corridor of a Russian train, grandly and rather optimistically called the “Red Arrow,” and went through that perennial conversation about The Future. Was he going to settle for a life in a commercial art studio or do what he really wanted to do – play the saxophone for a living?
Sensible people, even very talented ones always hesitate on the brink. In the event, the matter was decided for him because Mike Westbrook asked him to tour with his “Mama Chicago” show. Chris stayed with Westbrook for a year, his solos being one of the highspots of the programme whenever I heard it, and soon began turning up on record sessions. Kevin Coyne, the Original Mirrors, Metro among them.
This album is the first work of Chris Hunter’s maturity, and I think it is exciting for several reasons. In the first place it is entirely his that is to say he planned it, part-produced it and is featured throughout. Secondly, the album represents not only Chris but his generation of jazz musicians, a generation whose main influences are players like David Sanborn, Tom Scott, the Brecker brothers.
The British jazz scene has a curiously glum and stuffy aspect, born of a kind of artistic Puritanism. A polished, glossy, yet joyously uninhibited piece of work like this will probably be regarded as not serious or “important” enough. In which case, though. Anyone who can’t appreciate the needle-sharp accuracy, the imaginative pressure, the sheer artistry of this music has got cloth ears, and that’s all one can say in the matter.
Listen for instance, to Too High, where Chris pulls one idea out of another for minutes on end. I can think of a few players today who could spin a melodic thread of such variety and surprise. It bubbles, not only with youthful exuberance but with musical thought as well. Similarly, Prelude To A Kiss demonstrates his sound, range and control of time. The complete kit, in fact.
The question is, what to do with it. Is he to get embroiled in the endless game of musical chairs which is the bane of British jazz (I play in Joe’s band, Joe plays in mine, and we both play in Fred’s band when he can fix up a gig)? Or will all that artistry get flogged at all so much an hour on other people’s record dates?
Happily, it seems not. With this album Chris hunter is embarking on a career – properly thought out and carefully paced. One thing is certain: this is a hell of a good beginning.
Dave Gelly, April 1980