Chico Hamilton: Now and Then
The Original Chico Hamilton Quintet
It would be a huge understatement simply to say that legendary drummer Chico Hamilton is still going strong as he approaches his 88th birthday next month. His latest CD, Twelve Tones of Love, is as jam-packed with creativity and musical ideas as any release you're likely to hear this year. Indeed, one criticism of the album is that there's simply too much going on18 tunes crammed into its 75 minutes, incorporating everything from bebop to fusion to spoken word. But that's a minor caveat for a project envisioned as a celebration of Hamilton's diverse musical inspirations and associations over his long career.
Still a subtle master on the drums, Hamilton works here with a septet of far younger musiciansCary DeNigris (guitar), Paul Ramsey (electric bass), Evan Schwam (flute, soprano and tenor sax), Eddie Barbash (flute, soprano and alto sax), Ian Young (alto sax) and percussionist Jeremy Carlstedtplus guests. He draws portraits of some of his key collaborators through the years, including childhood friend Gerald Wilson, alto saxophonist Jackie Kelso (who sits in for two numbers) and trombonist George Bohanon (who appears on one). He also offers an appreciation of one of his most famous contemporaries, Charlie Parker, who was born just a year before Hamilton, focusing on Bird's use of melody.
There's also a spoken word piece incorporating a tender poem Hamilton wrote for his wife, a duet with singer Jose James (featuring Hamilton on mallets) on the melancholy standard "Lazy Afternoon" (a tune Hamilton first recorded with Tony Bennett in 1957), as well as a sweet Hamilton vocal on the chestnut "I Don't Know Why I Love You (I Just Do)". Never one to focus too much on the past, Hamilton even pens a toe-tapping tune with a rock groove, "Penthouse A".
Not everything here works, but most does and Hamilton deserves credit for looking back at his own musical history without slipping into nostalgia and always keeping an eye trained firmly on the future.
Chico Hamilton's early history is also the subject of an important new reissue on the Fresh Sound label. The Complete Studio Recordings of the Original Chico Hamilton Quintet compiles studio sessions from the first two Pacific Jazz releases by Hamilton's pathbreaking chamber jazz group from 1955-56.
Featuring Buddy Collette on reeds, a young Jim Hall on guitar, Carson Smith on bass and a very swinging Fred Katz on cello, Hamilton's group caught the tail end of the West Coat cool jazz explosion. Blending aspects of bebop and classical music into a subdued but driving sound, the band enjoyed considerable success in its time, though its recordings have not had the lasting popularity of similar efforts by peers like Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan or Chet Baker.
Interestingly, while he became a prolific composer, Hamilton contributed only one of the 15 tunes covered here, with the remainder either standards or songs by other band members.
Tracks and Personnel
Twelve Tones of Love
Tracks: A Piece of Music; Happiness Prevails; George, Nonchalant, Lazy Afternoon; Charlie Parker Suite, Penthouse A; On the Trail; Broadway, If You Can't Beat 'em Fight 'em; Really Makes My Day, First Light; Raoul; Steinway; I Don't Know Why (I Just Do); Lonely Woman; Brother Bob; The Alto of Kelso.
Personnel: Chico Hamilton: drums and vocals; Cary De Nigris: guitar; Paul Ramsey: Fender bass; Evan Schwam: flute, soprano and tenor sax; Eddie Barbash: flute, soprano and alto sax; Ian Young: alto sax; Jeremy Carlstedt: percussion; George Bohannon: trombone; Josh James: vocals; Jack Kelso: alto sax.
Complete Studio Recordings
Tracks: A Nice Day; My Funny Valentine; Blue Sands; The Sage; The Morning After; Jonalah; Chrissie; The Wind; Gone Lover (When Your Lover Has Gone); The Ghost; Sleepy Slept here (Santa Monica); Takin' a Chance on Love; The Squimp; Topsy; Sleep.
Personnel: Chico Hamilton: drums; Buddy Collette: flute, clarinet, alto and tenor sax; Jim Hall: guitar; Fred Katz: cello; Carson Smith: bass.