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McClenty Hunter, Jr's The Groove Hunter: A well-rounded first record

Even though The Groove Hunter is the first recording under McClenty Hunter Jr.’s name, don’t be fooled: Hunter is no newcomer to the scene. Having spent the last 13 years as a session musician, side man, and educator, Hunter is a seasoned professional. On The Groove Hunter, Hunter draws on this wide array of experiences, and calls on many of the musicians he’s played in support of, to present a masterful album full of great arrangements and beautiful original compositions.

Surprisingly, it is not the drums that stand out on the recording. While Hunter’s drum work is noteworthy, it is the performances Hunter coaxes from his bandmates that are truly spectacular. Stacy Dillard’s tenor saxophone on “My Love” and “Give Thanks” -- two of McClenty’s original compositions -- is absolutely magnificent. Veteran players Eric Reed, Donald Harrison, Eddie Henderson, and Dave Stryker each bring their characteristic sound to the cuts they feature on; Stryker’s guitar work on the two pieces he sits in on is exquisite, and Eddie Henderson’s trumpet steals the show on the Wayne Shorter penned classic “The Big Push.”

The Groove Hunter also adds another hat for Hunter to don: that of composer. The three original compositions on the album truly shine as much, if not more, than the arrangements. All three of the originals are mid-to-down-tempo ballads; however, none of them drag down the recording. Eric Reed’s piano and Stacy Dillard’s tenor sax are impeccable and blistering on “My Love,” while the trio piece “I Remember When” with Christian Sands on piano and Eric Wheeler on bass is beautifully lilting, building to an impassioned crescendo before concluding in a soft resolution. Hunter’s choice to close the album with the beautiful ballad “Give Thanks” brings a well-rounded close to an already beautiful album.

The musicianship on The Groove Hunter is remarkable, and a testament to the caliber of playing Hunter is used to. Established players Donald Harrison, Eddie Henderson, Eric Reed, and Dave Stryker are all musicians Hunter has played in support of, and has great chemistry with. All the while, rising artists Christian Sands, an outstanding improvisor and composer in his own right; Stacy Dillard, who has been praised for his acumen by Wynton Marsalis; and Eric Wheeler, a fellow Howard alumnus, work so well with Hunter, listeners will be hoping for another collaboration soon.

Overall, The Groove Hunter is almost a perfect first recording, in the sense that it showcases what type of bandleader and arranger Hunter will be. The album compels the listener to enjoy the album all the way to the end, due in part to Hunter’s arrangements, but also to the space he allows the musicians working with him. The Groove Hunter is a good album, that anyone -- not just jazzheads -- can enjoy. Here’s hoping we see many more from Mr. Hunter.

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