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           by George Urbaszek

Born in the same year as the Fender Jazz Bass, English-born Sydney resident Steve Hunter has a special affinity with jazz, bass and the Jazz Bass.

 

A prolific composer of over three hundred tunes, of which sixty have been released, Steve has taken jazz beyond standards. His pieces serve as departure points, creating mostly modal moods with lots of space for development of improvisations.

Steve is considered Australia’s virtuoso of the bass guitar. He is quick to point out, however, that he does not want to be represented as an “all notes” player. I have heard Steve play on many occasions and consider him to be virtuosic in the true sense, a skilled investigator and performer of the art of music and bass playing. From his authoritative playing on the powerful fusion album “Playdiem” (Larrikin/Festival, 1992) to his lyrical elegance on the ARIA-nominated solo bass album “Night People” (Tall Poppies/Universal, 1994) to the current release “Nine Lives” (ABC/EMI, 2000) - from which the tune “Reason” has just been nominated for an APRA award for “most played jazz composition”- Steve always displays one of music’s most desired attributes: controlled excitement. 

Since 1991 Steve has played instruments crafted by Sydney luthier Jeffrey Mallia  (http://mallia.com.au). All these 6, 5 and 4-string basses are modeled on the Fender Jazz Bass, be it body contours, neck profiles, knob or pickup placements. The sound created is that unique blend of a superb instrument in the hands of a superb player. 

He has appeared on no less than twenty-two albums, four as leader and three as co-leader. Yet-to-be-released recordings with Steve include “The Bridge” by Indonesian keyboard player, Dwiki Dharmawan, featuring a compilation of luminaries such as USA heavyweights Mike Stern (guitar), Lincoln Goines (bass), Richie Morales (drums) and stellar Australian musicians Glen Wilson (drums), David Jones (drums) and Guy Strazzullo (guitar). Steve is also excited about the upcoming release of his second album with vocalist, Robyne Dunn (http://www.robynedunn.com.au).  

Here’s something old and new devotees will really enjoy working with, listening to and learning from: The Australian Music Centre (http://www.amcoz.com.au/home.htm) is about to release the sheet music and CD/cassette to Steve Hunter’s recordings for solo bass. “Children’s Songs” by Chick Corea (with whom Steve has twice played a series of concerts) served as the inspiration for this collection, which is “from easy to virtuosic”. If you are interested to try your hand at playing this music, you can learn to play guitar at takelessons.com, one of many easy-to-access online resources for guitar lessons.  Many of the pieces have been reworked and re-recorded on 4-string bass.

Steve with Billy Cobham Steve with Chick Corea

 

I first met Steve around 1990 at a clinic he was giving in Canberra, Australia. His knowledge, musicality, bass playing prowess, relaxed nature and a strong desire to emit his own voice led me to invite Steve to do a workshop at the Canberra School of Music. Steve graciously accepted and a few months later he was back for a gig, a masterclass, one-on-one instruction and a very articulate workshop session. The gig was played with local musicians, who tackled some of Steve’s compositions as well as many jazz standards. Needless to say, Steve blitzed them all. Since then, Steve has returned on numerous occasions, always with great success and much to give. On one such occasion about two years ago, Steve tested, for the first time, his compositions for the about-to be-formed nine-piece band, “Steve Hunter’s Nine Lives”. He patiently worked with students on the parts, culminating in a joyously received evening concert. As a result of this event, Steve invited local trombone player and student at the time, Lucien McGuiness, to play on the “Nine Lives” album.  

Recently I conversed with Steve by telephone on the eve of his departure for two weeks of jazz club gigs in Hong Kong and surrounds. He will meet up with long-time collaborators, guitarist Guy Le Claire (http://home.netvigator.com/~glecmus/) and drummer, Anthony Fernandez. The trio will perform many of their compositions in the style of John Scofield meets “Bright Size Life”. This promises to be a season of relaxed grooves and melodic solos. 

In his choice of bass, Steve has come full circle. His beginnings as a fifteen-year-old were on a Fender Jazz bass, later a fretless, then various 6-strings, on to a 5-string (with high “C”) and now back to a 4-string. Steve says “It is like going back to your roots, there is a certain uniformity of tone on the 4, it is fun to play and I can say what I want to say on 4”. And he says it very well! Steve is an extremely articulate player with an excellent sense for dynamics and the shaping of pieces through melodic and rhythmic development. He is now looking into ways of transferring some aspects of 5 and 6-string playing onto 4. For example, chord extensions that work in the lower register as well as new chord voicings. 

I asked Steve about desires for his musical future.  He said one thing he is working on is “how to get to play with Joe Zawinul”. 

Besides equipment, the internet and music software, we talked about the state of bass playing beyond emulation. Musicians who have developed bass after Jaco, such as Anthony Jackson, John Patitucci, Gary Willis, Kai Eckhard and Dominique di Piazza were mentioned. “Jaco Pastorius played a major role in my development” Steve said. Yet Steve has managed to emerge with something entirely his own. Subsequent to Jaco, Steve says “ There are people that have walked through the door that he opened; they are extending and finding their own improvisational language.” Steve, you are one of them. 

If your appetite has been whetted and you would like to find out more about Steve, go to http://www.stevehuntermusic.com/

 

George Urbaszek plays and teaches in the Great Down Under, in Australia. This year he will be busy touring with Sweet Mischief, promoting the 9-piece band’s debut album. He also teaches worldwide via audio correspondence. For more information about George and his lessons, go to www.geocities.com/creativeavenues.

 

 

 

                                  

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