by Ian Mann
July 04, 2013
The group strikes a good balance between compositional structure and improvisational freedom and the constantly evolving music consistently sustains the listener's interest.
Anton Hunter Trio
“Anton Hunter Trio”
(Efpi Records FP11)
Anton Hunter is best known as the guitarist (and occasional composer) of the Manchester based Beats & Pieces Big Band. However he’s also a prolific small group leader who is involved in a bewildering series of projects including his Bill Frisell influenced 265 Quartet and HAQ, the quartet he co-leads with saxophonist Sam Andreae. HAQ have recorded both an EP and a full length album for Efpi and each is reviewed elsewhere on this site. He’s also worked with a variety of freely improvising musicians and electronic artists and by way of contrast also performs with the jazz/funk combo Caulbearers and the jazz/dub/reggae outfit Skamel, the latter led by his brother, Johnny.
The young guitarist also leads his own trio featuring Johnny Hunter on drums plus James Adolpho on double bass. This line up completed a successful UK tour back in April/May 2013 in support of this EP which was recorded just shortly before. Given the semi punk ethos of Efpi one might be forgiven for thinking that Hunter’s group represents some kind of “power trio” but the EP offers a surprising degree of sophistication and places a strong emphasis upon the process of improvisation. Comparisons have been made with the music of Frisell (natch), Tortoise and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. As befits a modern, college educated musician Hunter appears to have a thorough knowledge of jazz, rock and electronic music styles which he harnesses to good, and often innovative, effect
The disc comes packaged in Efpi’s trademark “punk” style, the cardboard sleeve designed by artist Angela Guyton. Andreae and Beats & Pieces leader Ben Cottrell are involved in the production process. The five pieces appear to be named after locations in the North of England or in Scandinavia. Efpi have struck up something of a “cultural exchange” with young Scandinavian musicians and I think I’m correct in believing that Andreae currently divides his time between Manchester and Stockholm where he’s involved with Efpi bands Silence Blossoms and Aaargh!
If the music on this EP is inspired by landscapes then many of the tunes represent soundscapes. Despite the sparseness of the instrumentation there’s a layered, painterly quality about much of this music that evokes comparisons with Frisell but avoids sounding directly like him. There’s a distinctive British/European sensibility about the music that distances it from Frisell’s Americana. I’m less familiar with the work of either Tortoise or Godspeed! and as such don’t feel qualified to dwell further on that comparison.
What impresses on opener “Kolme” is the interplay between the three instruments, these are young musicians with big ears who clearly relish listening to, and interacting with, each other. Anton’s spidery chords dovetail well with brother Johnny’s quiet, but busy and conversational drumming . Adolpho plays both pizzicato and arco, neatly bridging the space between the two brothers. There’s a “dreamscape” quality about much of the piece with the music finally going “widescreen” in its closing stages as the trio loop and layer their sound for a more “full on” effect that still manages to sound hauntingly ethereal despite the gradual increase in intensity.
“Aire”, presumably named after the English river, seems to chart the course of its subject, quietly welling up from the ground via droplets of gently echoing pointillist guitar before gaining mass and momentum with the gradual addition of bass and drums. Spikier passages, including an extended drum feature, hint at the river’s industrial heritage before a looped and layered closing section with shimmering cymbals and soaring guitar seems to signal journey’s end. The FX drenched diminuendo suggests absorption into the Humber Estuary and eventually the North Sea.
The title “Newsome” also hints at English origins. It begins in delicately ruminative fashion with the interplay between the Hunter brothers particularly engrossing as Anton’s clear toned guitar gently rambles and Johnny’s drums provide neatly detailed comment and punctuation. Later the music takes an edgier turn but that essential element of dialogue is always present.
“TRS-Q” sees Anton turning up his amp and churning out some chunky riffs, these punctuated by more impressionistic, but still febrile, episodes featuring Adolpho’s grainy arco bass. Later on there’s a lengthy but explosive drum solo from Johnny Hunter followed by Anton in full on rock mode, the guitarist delivering a bitingly intense solo to climax the piece. The only truly “in yer face” item on the recording this piece is almost certain to be a great live favourite.
The trio return to impressionistic territory for the closing “Tyven” with Anton’s guitar tracery punctuated by his brother’s percussive commentary. Johnny sounds as if he’s deploying small percussive devices (bowls, bells,blocks, etc) and he generates a fascinating array of sounds to accompany Anton’s gradually more assertive playing. Eventually the music fades away again and the album concludes with the gentlest of dialogues between the Hunter siblings.
Overall I was very impressed with this short introduction into the world of the Anton Hunter Trio. The group strikes a good balance between compositional structure and improvisational freedom and the constantly evolving music consistently sustains the listener’s interest. The chemistry between the Hunter brothers is particularly engrossing.
FX and electronics are utilised judiciously and effectively to add variety and substance to the group sound and the array of colours and textures generated from an apparently basic trio set up impresses throughout. Anton Hunter and his colleagues are doing their bit to expand the horizons of the guitar/bass/drum trio. Check them (and their numerous other projects) out if you can.