How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Mix a young singer and pianist with a veteran composer/arranger/big band conductor and blend with an abundance of talented, experienced instrumentalists and the result is an exciting (for the most part) album called Textures in Hi-Fi. This is West Coast denizen Robert Hick's second album and is considerably more adventurous than the first. Rather than relying strictly on standards, there's a couple of originals, but mostly songs composed by the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, Freddie Slack and, principally, Mr. Rugolo himself – good music that we don't hear often enough. The band's cast of characters have played with virtually every major West Coast big band of the last 30 years, including Stan Kenton, Henry Mancini, Woody Herman, Buddy Bregman and, of course, Pete Rugolo's. Rugolo's arrangements quickly bring to mind the material he wrote backing such singers as June Christy, the Four Freshmen and Billy Eckstine. In sum, Mr. Hicks is surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast. So how does the young singer comport himself in this elite company. On a scale of one to 10, he rates an eight. He has a pleasant enough voice, light and lilting, with flickers of Chet Baker, Harry Connick, Jr, with some of the high note endings to songs that Mel Torme used so effectively over the years. Hicks can reach quite high on the scale, at time approaching the counter tenor range. The up tempo material on this session comes off much better than the ballads, "Interlude" and "Dark Shadows", Both arrangements are cluttered with strings and French horns. Instead of being romantic, Hicks' voice is lackadaisical and dull. Contrast that with the animated renderings of such tunes as "It's Crazy" and "Rika Jika Jack". The Rugolo arranged "You Stepped out a Dream" recalls his 1955 recording of that lovely tune with the Four Freshmen and, for me was a highlight of the session. "The Ritz Roll and Rock" burns with great section ensemble playing surrounded by hot solos from Steve Wilkerson' s baritone sax and Barry Zweig's guitar. Hicks is also is the pianist on this date. Like his voice, he has a light, uncomplicated style showing some familiarity with boogie woogie on "That Was the End of Me."
The two instrumentals, "Minor Riff" and "Firebird Jumps", are mixed. The former is fine, but the latter doesn't "jump." But this is a small bump in the musical road. Mr. Hicks is a good singer right now and should get better as his voice matures. This album is recommended. Visit Robert Hicks on his web site at http://performingarts/net/hafman/Hicks/index.html.
Tracks"It's Crazy; "Richard Diamond" Theme; The Ritz Roll and Rock; Minor Riff; Interlude; It only Happens When I Dance with You; Bongo Fever; Firebird Jumps; Out of the Shadows; You Stepped out of a Dream; That Was the end of Me; Rika Jika Jack; The House of Blue Lights.
Personnel: Robert Hicks - Piano/Vocals; Frank Szabo, Buddy Childers, Conte Candoli, Pete Candoli - Trumpets; Roy Weigand, Greg Solomon, Jack Redmond, Bill Tole -Trobones; George Roberts - Bass Trombone; Steve Wilkerson, Terry Harrington, Jim Quam, Jennifer Hall, Bob Efford - Saxophones; Ray Reed - Saxophone/Flute;Barry Zweig - guitar; John Leitham, Don Bagley - Bass; Chuck Flores - Drums; Jack Costanzo - Bongos/Congas; Don Palmer, Shari Zippert, Russ Cantor - Violins; Cynthia Morrow - Viola; David Shamban - Cello; Brian O'Connor, Steven Becknell, David Duke - French Horns; Don Shelton - Flute; Emil Richards - Vibraphone; Al Viola - Guitar