Charlie Hunter Gets Crowd Grooving, Despite Rain

Guitarist plays a free mini-festival in San Francisco with Stefon Harris, Patricia Barber, Tin Hat Trio.

SAN FRANCISCO — It had all the makings for the perfect afternoon of jazz, with a side of activism: Mother Jones magazine and Blue Note records were presenting an outdoor free show Saturday at the scenic Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco.

The lineup — vibist Stefon Harris' quartet, the Tin Hat Trio, singer/pianist Patricia Barber's trio and guitarist Charlie Hunter with percussionist Adam Cruz — was hip, and the price was certainly right. But Mother Jones unfortunately got trumped by another Mother — Nature — who summoned enough rain to eventually clear out everyone but the diehards.

Nevertheless, the event was well-received.

"We heard about the show on radio, so we decided to drive out here," said America Romero, 48, from Healdsburg, Calif. "It's nice that people put on these events, especially in a city that's so expensive."

Jenny Smith, a 23-year-old jazz lover from Oakland said she was emailed about the show from a friend.

"I don't see shows as often as I would like, and I like the rain, actually."

The day started off overcast, which undoubtedly cut into attendance right off the bat. Harris' group, with drummer Terreon Gully, double bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Orrin Evans, played first. The majority of the set was devoted to strong originals by Harris, who alternated between vibraphone and marimba.

Highlights included a striking take on "Summertime" and the closing number, "Epilogue," which Harris wrote for late vibraphone great Milt Jackson.

San Francisco Bay Area's Tin Hat Trio, consisting of Mark Orton (guitar, dobro), Carla Kihlstedt (violin) and Rob Burger (accordion, piano), performed next. The group's unique, modern take on European and North and South American traditions elicited an enthusiastic response from the crowd, even prompting a few to dance.

Particularly popular was "Holiday Joel," which, dedicated to Billie Holiday and Billy Joel, conveys an idea of Tin Hat's sense of humor.

Drizzle began during Tin Hat's set and turned into a steady rain for Patricia Barber's trio's performance. By now many in the audience had departed, and those remaining who didn't have umbrellas used Blue Note promo posters and free copies of Mother Jones as protection.

A charismatic and urbane performer who interprets recent and time-honored compositions, Barber received a knowing cheer as she kicked into the introduction to her take on the Doors' "Light My Fire." She also received applause when she sang the line "Bill Gates has won" from her own "Postmodern Blues."

But Barber had to end her set early to keep the grand piano from getting soaked.

When Berkeley native and Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Hunter began to play, the afternoon morphed from a jazz festival to a rock concert. As Hunter and Cruz walked onstage, people stood up en masse and rushed toward the bandstand, where they bobbed and grooved to the funky sounds of Hunter's eight-string guitar and Cruz's drums.

Former <Charlie Hunter Trio saxophonist Dave Ellis later walked onstage to much excitement, shining on a muscular version of the Hunter classic "Funky Niblets" (RealAudio excerpt). Later, Harris, who has played in Hunter's Pound for Pound band, joined the trio and stuck around for the encore.