The Toronto Jazz Festival is once again short on adventurous jazz artists. But at least the mainstages will be filled with some exciting non-??jazz performers like Brit soul singer/guitarist James Hunter, who’ll be unveiling the swinging tunes from his fab new disc, The Hard Way (Hear Music/Universal), expertly produced by Liam Watson (White Stripes) at the analog oasis of London’s Toe Rag Studios. Hunter is joined by openers Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at Nathan Phillips Square (Queen and Bay) Tuesday (June 24), 8 pm. $25. tojazz.com.
How is The Hard Way different from the Liam Watson-produced People Gonna Talk?
Liam’s idea was to try an even more primitive recording technique than the previous album by using fewer tracks. As usual, he wouldn’t get into the nuts and bolts of it, but said that reducing the number of tracks we used would give us better-??quality sound. So most of the instruments, including horns, were recorded live in the studio onto one track, then guitar and vocals separately on two others and (I’m not supposed to admit this) a fourth track used for overdubbing a string section.
Does Watson really wear a white lab coat while twisting knobs during recording sessions?
I have indeed seen Liam in a lab coat, but he usually puts it on when he gets Jamaican takeout for lunch. You know how it can be greasy, and he doesn’t want to mess up his clothes.
How did you get New Orleans great Allen Toussaint to play piano and sing backing vocals on the sessions?
We played a show in New York and he happened to be in the audience, but I didn’t meet him until I ran into him in Nashville and then in San Francisco. He made no bones about liking what we did, so I wasn’t too shy about asking him to join us in the studio.
How do you react to critics who discount your work as some kind of retro anomaly?
I have been in retro denial for some time now, but I don’t try to hide my influences. Some bloke said, “What journalists mean when they call you retro is that you’re not 80s-??sounding,” which I thought was brilliant. There’s an attitude that going back is somehow a weird, revolutionary thing, but the way I see it, I’m just ditching the horrible techniques from the recent past. This whole concept of opening things up and giving everything a flatter, colourless sound has only been going on since the 80s, which in terms of musical history is relatively recent. So I’m not taking a step backward; I’m just avoiding something awful that occurred recently.
Have you started listening to jazz since you last played the Toronto Jazz Festival?
Oh, yes, we’ve all been completely converted, and in honour of the festival I’ll be playing all our songs with loads of minor 6ths, diminished 7ths and, er, amalgamated 9ths, so we won’t even be able to understand them ourselves.
James Hunter reveals the inspiration for documenting his tours on film:
Thus far Hunter hasn't inadvertantly captured any crimes in progress but he has caught a few unexpected events: