The Charlie Hunter Quartet

The Charlie Hunter Quartet performs at the Fillmore in SF on Oct. 5 and at Yoshi’s in Oakland for six nights in December.

A new breed of young lions is trying to keep jazz hip by bringing it into the 21st century—and traditional label Blue Note is expressing this attitude toward experimentation (though it doesn’t hurt that the newer artists make more money by appealing to younger generations raised on jam bands). While today’s jazz cats throw different instruments into the mix, everything from samplers and turntables to exotic Eastern flavors and talented new singers, the results often vary.

With Charlie Hunter, a virtuoso on his customized eight-string guitar, one can expect a technical genius with his feet dancing softly in several different genres, namely funk, jazz, rock and blues—what he collectively terms “rhythm music.” But this new album is foremost a grooving, free-for-all expression of soul music—thanks to four guest singers: jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, rapper Mos Def, Theryl de Clouet from Galactic and Norah Jones. Besides his playing, Hunter’s best assets include tight band-leading skills and a fine taste for choice songs from other genres. Though the album is sprinkled with jams for the head-nodders, the real knockouts here are the covers: Roxy Music’s gorgeous “More Than This,” sung with Astrud Gilberto-like charm by Jones; a drowning, primitive version of the Willie Dixon classic “Spoonful” (with the grumbling DeClouet masterfully taking the reins); and a funky closing rendition of Nick Drake’s “Day Is Done.”

Give him credit: Hunter knows that guitar wanking gets old, no matter how good you are, and he’s done well here by bringing soulful songs and a warm, rhythmic approach to the forefront.