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Live Review

James Hunter
Jazz Café 1st & 2nd August 2007
Review by Sharnalee Foster. Photos by Alan Harrison

I approached the two Jazz Café gigs with the eager anticipation of an ardent James Hunter fan. Ticket sales for the first night at this esteemed venue may not have met expectations, but those who were there were privileged to enjoy a gig of surprising intimacy. As Mr.Hunter quipped at one point, ”I reckon we must know most of you personally”. There was certainly a genuine warmth which had nothing to do with the sweat being worked up on stage.

Pete Molinari started the night off with a solid folk blues set. His strong voice, songwriting and musicianship, handling both guitar and harmonica with ease, nicely whetted the appetite for James Hunter’s unique brand of songwriting genius. It was not surprising to hear that Molinari has recorded at Toe Rag Studios; the same studio used for Hunter’s highly acclaimed, Grammy-nominated “People Gonna Talk” album.

Hunter immediately had the joint jumping with the opening bars of the rockin’ “Talking ‘Bout My Love”. He and his merry band, consisting of Jason Wilson on double bass, Damian Hand on tenor sax, Lee Badau on baritone sax, Jonathan Lee on drums and new boy, Dave Baldwin on keyboards, performed as an incredibly tight unit, demonstrating jaw-dropping technical prowess, right through to the final encore.

With Hunter’s superb vocal gymnastics going from Cooke-like smooth, through Charlesesque earthiness, to James Brown yelps and Jackie Wilson trills, this was music at its best. He can do it all with effortless ease, adeptly switching from blues to ska to soul to latin rhythms, mixing tender ballads like “Mollena” and “The Very Thought of You” with up tempo finger-poppers like “No Smoke Without Fire”.

Hunter draws heavily on the early soul and r’n’b of his heroes, and included rip-roaring renditions of The 5 Royales’ “Baby Don’t Do It” and “Think” in his set, but at no point do you feel he’s a mere imitator. His music may be evocative of a bygone era, but his repertoire is largely self-penned and shows he has truly created a groove that is entirely his own. This is feelgood dance music that can appeal to anyone, and as, for once, there was room to dance, as noted by Mr.Hunter, the audience needed little encouragement.

From “Evil Eye”, the first ever song he wrote, back in 1984, to ”Ain’t Going Nowhere”, a song yet to be recorded, Hunter showed his aptitude for fun and panache for picking the right words. His lyrics weren’t the only area to showcase his keen sense of humour. There was a boyish charm to his often self-deprecating remarks and his stage antics that you’d be hard-pressed not to warm to. For example, having forgotten his guitar for the encore, he then returned sporting false teeth, which he shamelessly displayed to full comic effect, while dancing with his guitar and performing the most elaborate riffs. As expected, Hunter had given it his all, regardless of whether he was playing to Bryan Adams fans in a stadium, to blues buffs at a festival or to a half-filled club, and the audience was noisily appreciative.

The following night was a sellout, and the Jazz Café was heaving. Could the boys match their exuberance of the previous night? No-one need have worried. As someone who rarely misses a James Hunter gig, this is perhaps what I find most impressive; that he continues to perform, night after night, with the same boundless energy and absolute conviction. This guy clearly loves what he does and the frantically jigging, whooping audience just love watching him. Perhaps, after years of paying his dues, word is finally beginning to spread; that here is a talent to be reckoned with. It must surely have been a thrill to hear fans singing along, word perfect. These gigs were like a wonderful, exhilarating party, where life somehow felt less complicated. We were all thrilled to have been invited. Long may the party continue.

Related Bluesinlondon pages:
2008 interview with James >>
2005 interview with James >>
Live Review Hammermith Apollo 2008 >>
Live review Jazz Café 2007 >>
Live review Spitz 2006 >>

External Links: - Official Website - Myspace

Trailer for 'People Gonna Talk' >>
Live in Philadelphia >>
Later with Jools Holland >>

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