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Charlie Hunter

Charlie Hunter's seventh Blue Note release is the first to feature vocalists -- Theryl De'Clouet, Kurt EllingNorah Jones, and rapper Mos Def -- who appear in rotating guest spots. Five of the 13 tracks are instrumental originals. Some meander in a typical jam band way, but they're guided by an economical, live-quartet sound and driven by Hunter's highly intriguing eight-string guitar work. The short solo guitar piece "Sunday Morning" is a tease, but also a gem. De'Clouet's gravelly, soulful voice fits nicely on Earth, Wind & Fire's "Mighty, Mighty" and the Willie Dixon blues classic "Spoonful"; his control of harmonic overtones on the latter is astounding. Labelmate Norah Jones lends her breezy, laid-back vibe to Roxy Music's "More Than This" and Nick Drake's "Day Is Done." Mos Def kibbitzes on the opening "Street Sounds" and turns in a respectable singing performance on the sultry, minor-key "Creole." Kurt Elling, also a labelmate, is impeccably smooth on a percussion/vocal interpretation of "Close Your Eyes," a standard that served as the title track of the singer's Blue Note release of 1995.Elling also sings and does spoken word on "Desert Way" (co-written with Hunter), helping to distinguish it as the most ambitious track on the disc. Hunter's fiercely eclectic tastes have been evident on previous releases, but the presence of the vocalists enables him to establish connections and tell stories he never has before.