Note Records approached Charlie Hunter
to cover an entire classic album of the
past by a legendary artist as part of their
new Cover Series project. The choice
on what album to be covered was left up
to Charlie and his Quartet to decide. Having
a broad range of musical influences did
not make the decision easy for Charlie.
After pondering the idea of doing Curtis
"Superfly" and the Beach Boys'
"Smiley Smile", he settled on Bob
Marley's Natty Dread.
starters, Bob Marley is one of the greatest
songwriters of all time," Hunter explains. "His
music stands on its own like a Beatles
song. You strum one of his tunes on an
acoustic guitar and people instantly recognize
it. He ranks up there as a song composer
with Stevie Wonder and Elvis
Costello. Plus, the numbers on Natty
Dread have such strong melodies and
harmonies. The clincher was that each tune
presented itself in such a way that allowed
the band the freedom to do something original
Band members Scott Amendola, Calder Spanier, Kenny Brooks and
Hunter met and all contributed ideas into turning the reggae tunes into jazz
arrangements. After breaking out a tune or two from Natty Dread on the
road, they settled into a run of weekly shows at their familiar confine, the
Elbo Room in the San Francisco SOMA district where on a couple of occassions,
the whole album was performed in its entirety, in sequence, to the delight and
amazement of the fans. After
these well-received shows, they spent three days in the studio with producer Lee
Townsend (Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Will Bernard) for the recording
of the album.
"It was a challenge to take Bob
Marley's music and do justice to it.
But we're pleased with what we came up
with," Hunter says. We recorded
most of the tunes on first or second
takes so it feels like a live album.
We had fun doing the project. It all
came together serendipitously. The round
pegs fit in the round holes and the square
ones fit in the square holes. It was
really that easy."
Up Yourself - "It seemed
obvious right from the start that this
tune had to be done as a shuffle. We
didn't even discuss the arrangement as
a group. We just played it and it fell
right into place."
Woman, No Cry - "I got some
ideas by messing around with 'The Tennessee
Waltz'. I was also working with concepts
on stating melodies I picked up from
listening to Ry Cooder and Roebuck 'Pops'
Staples. It's not easy to hear, but there's
also a Bill Frisell feel. What's really
interesting is the accordian sound Calder
and Kenny create with the intervals they're
playing on their altos. We come off sounding
like Flaco Jimenez jamming with Ry."
Belly Full - "This builds in
intensity with Latin-inflected rhythms.
That was an easy one."
Music - "That was the
hardest arrangement to figure out.
We finally decided to do it slow and
straight. I used my guitar to get that
organ sound by running it through a
Leslie speaker. I wanted to make the
tune sound like John Patton was playing
Jah Seh - Hunter gives the credit
to Scott Amendola for coming up with
the idea to play this tune as an Afro-pop
sensibility. Calder worked on the initial
arrangement which was modified by the
band during their live dates.
Dread - This piece was arranged with
a Carribean flare to it.
Down Low - Charlie calls their arrangement
of "Bend Down Low" a gospel
speed-metal version. He also notes that
the horns play the heads of five other
Marley tunes. "You have to listen
carefully for those cameos. Theyre pretty
well disguised. It's like Calder and
Kenny are doing backward masking vocals."
Blues - "It's pretty basic.
It's the Marley tune with the groove
inspired by the [Eddie] Harris number
Kenny Brooks arranged the closer as a slow