On a recent Friday night in the Crown, Bobby Previte helmed the iteration of his Voodoo Orchestra astride a small drum kit, where he could keep time, direct flow and provide inspiration for the band as they tackled “Bitches Brew” and other highly technical pieces of music from the master Miles Davis.
View a photo gallery of the event here.
Previte’s Voodoo Orchestra experiment might best be described as a pop-up, a one off, a temporary jazz orchestra formed largely from local musicians itching to get their hands on this kind of material. Previte parachutes in from New York to weave it all together.
Among the local luminaries on the stage that night were UNCG student Chloe White on the baritone sax, UNC School of the Arts professor Reagan Mitchell on the alto and the troubadour Ben Singer having so much fun on his organ that one could have been tempted to sully the moment with a dirty joke. They found sound architect Dante Whitmore at the Apple Store.
And then, in the back row pulling double duty on guitar and bass, there was Charlie Hunter.
It was Previte’s show, but Hunter’s moment — it was he who assembled the talent for the show, set the rehearsals at OnTheOne studio in downtown Greensboro, gave a stamp of gravitas to the proceedings that left audience members feeling like they had just spent the evening at the exact center of the universe.
Hunter is one of the most important guitarists working today, a guy who invented his own 10-finger technique while busking in Paris and backing up Michael Franti, displayed amply in a dense catalog that dates back to the early ’90s. This makes him one of Greensboro’s most noteworthy citizens, though he’s only lived in town for a year or so.
He came for a lot of the same reasons the rest of us did: It’s an easy place to live, affordable, manageable and, for a guy who spends half the year on the road, convenient to leave via the highways or the finest airport in the country.
He had been living with his wife and kids in Montclair, NJ, and while the proximity to New York City was useful for a modern guitarist, it had its drawbacks.
“We never could make any money,” he says. “All the important things about New York — the culture, the nightlife and everything — we had aged out of. All that was left was the bills, and all the problems.”
From Greensboro, he’s got the wherewithal to maintain his road-heavy schedule and then book the kinds of gigs he wants to play in his adopted hometown, like the Voodoo Orchestra. There’s more like it in the pipeline, he says.
“Whatever I have to offer,” he says, “I need to put it out there, here. Even in these small places, like the Crown or OnTheOne, I’ve seen the effect this has on local musicians, the young people. It overtakes them and they just respond.”