Ghosts kept rearing their images during Van Hunt’s enthralling hourlong set at a packed Roxy Tuesday: Curtis Mayfield perked up when Hunt went into falsetto, Marvin Gaye looked in when the subject matter turned sensual and Eddie Hazel winked when the guitar solos went out of control over the funk rhythm. Among the living, George Clinton and Sly Stone should smile if they encounter Hunt and this entourage. Not since Prince and the Revolution has a band been able to move so seamlessly between funk and rock with a captivating front man singing such well-constructed songs.
An original with a firmly assimilated sense of history, Hunt goes the extra mile musically to prove he’s not another formulaic neo-soul songwriter and singer. His new disc, “On the Jungle Floor” (Capitol), appeals in its wide-ranging vocabulary, including aggressive rock ‘n’ roll and gooey funk, all of which is presented with conviction in concert.
One senses, from this well-executed perf, he’s a no compromise kind of guy. Deep into the performance of “Being a Girl,” the best song on “Jungle Floor,” Hunt demanded that the audience sing-along in an attempt to convince the Capitol brass that it should be his next single (he’s right). Late in the set he stopped one of his rock tunes to admonish the audience, which had swayed all night to the more rhythmically skewed numbers, for standing still. He wants an aud that’s not locked into a specific genre; that’s going to take time to develop.
Tunes from his Capitol debut, “Down Here in Hell (With You)” and “Seconds of Pleasure,” still sound like songs that should have put Hunt into the top 10 two years ago. Hunt’s hook-laden funk tracks on the new disc, though, have a universal appeal that should translate to better sales. In many ways he’s a dream come true for rock fans not finding enough P-Funk or Family Stone in the new breed of soul musicians: Hunt even covers the Stooges on his new disc.
Gig was a record release event prior to Hunt joining a tour with Anthony Hamilton and Heather Headley. That triple bill plays Gibson Amphitheatre April 21 and Gotham’s Beacon Theatre on May 3 and 4. He does a solo show in New York at the Canal Room on May 8.