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T.J. Kirk

T.J. Kirk may not be remembered in the annals of jazz/fusion history, but the quartet's story is uniquely its own. Formed by eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter as a side group to his own self-titled and San Francisco-based band, T.J. Kirk was a cover act that took its name from the three artists making up its catalog: Thelonius Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Hunter's recording career had started in 1993, and he brought his group's drummer, Scott Amendola, into T.J. Kirk to join the more conventional six-string guitarists Will Bernard and John Schott. The band wanted to be called James T. Kirk, but settled for T.J. Kirk for their 1995 self-titled debut CD when they didn't get permission to use the original moniker from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's estate. The album gave Hunter license to play in styles even more funky than with his own ensemble, as the eight-string guitarist often played bass lines and guitar melodies (usually simultaneously) and even added keyboard-like textures on his customized Novax instrument. Combined with Amendola's muscular drumming, Hunter's versatility allowed Bernard and Schott the freedom to re-work their namesake trio's classics like "Soul Power," "Bemsha Swing," and "Serenade to a Cuckoo." The group's 1996 follow-up, If Four Was One, was even better. T.J. Kirk had a knack not only for mimicking Brown's soul epics ("Get on the Good Foot," "The Payback"), but also making danceable the jazz standards of Monk and Kirk ("Damn Right I'm Somebody," "Ruby, My Dear," "Four in One"). Yet Hunter, never one to stand pat, was making changes in his own band's career. When he covered reggae legend Bob Marley's time-honored Natty Dread album, instrumentally and in its entirety, in 1997, and in the process made one of his best CDs, T.J. Kirk was essentially finished except for the live bootleg recordings. The death of Hunter's saxophonist Calder Spanier in an auto accident later in the year -- and Hunter's decision to move from the Bay Area to New York in 1998 -- officially ended the reign of T.J. Kirk. But as anyone who's heard their releases knows, T.J. Kirk is the unofficial captain of jazz/fusion's all-time cover bands. Further evidence appeared in 2005 when the Rope-A-Dope label issued a 1997 concert by the band as Talking Only Makes It Worse. ~ Bill Meredith, Rovi
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