By Suzanne Lorge | Published August 2018
One could take the title of drummer McClenty Hunter Jr.’s debut album as a leader, The Groove Hunter, in two ways. Either Hunter is the one chasing the groove to conquer and subdue it, or he himself is the groove. It’s a tough call to decide which interpretation is more apt.
First off, the Juilliard-trained Hunter is without question a master of the pocket. On his version of Wayne Shorter’s “The Big Push,” the bandleader rivets the pulse into the floor while his horn trio—Stacy Dillard on tenor saxophone, Eddie Henderson on trumpet and Donald Harrison on alto saxophone—cycles through the tune’s surprising harmonic tensions. Then, on “Sack Full Of Dreams,” Hunter’s nod to mentor Grady Tate (who popularized the song), he lays back into a soul-inspired feel, leaving guitarist Dave Stryker free to explore the sweeter spots of the melody.
But on his four originals, Hunter reveals a more vulnerable, personal musical self. On these tracks, he favors intros with subdued percussive lines, a conversational tone among the players and swelling dynamics that explode in spirited celebration, before settling back into introspection. Helping Hunter to establish this musical arc are the fleet-fingered pianist Eric Reed and emotive bassist Corcoran Holt, who sink into intense reveries when soloing—especially on the ardent “My Love” and the mellifluent “Give Thanks,” respectively.
In the category of above-and-beyond, Hunter brings together Stryker, keyboardist Christian Sands and bassist Eric Wheeler on a stoked version of Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl.” While Hunter plays a shuffle behind them, these players race on, galvanized by the thrill of the chase.
The Groove Hunter: Blue Chopsticks; The Big Push; Autumn; That Girl; My Love; Sack Full Of Dreams; I Remember When; Countdown; Give Thanks. (52:00)
Personnel: McClenty Hunter Jr., drums; Eddie Henderson, trumpet (2); Stacy Dillard, tenor, soprano saxophone; Eric Reed, piano; Corcoran Holt, bass; Donald Harrison, alto saxophone (2, 8); Davy Stryker, guitar (4, 6); Eric Wheeler, bass (4, 6, 7); Christian Sands, piano, Fender Rhodes (4, 6, 7).