The passing of pianist John Hicks in 2006 marks the loss of one of the quintessential New York pianists. And this, perhaps his last recording, is a stunning example of a fully developed bebop piano trio in flight.
Hicks gained the spotlight working with Art Blakey, Betty Carter and Woody Herman in the 1960s and '70s. He then migrated to avant-garde saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and David Murray before returning to the hard bop sounds of his Keystone Trio (with George Mraz and Idris Muhammad) and Power Trio (with Elvin Jones and Cecil McBee). In the 1990s he could also be found at the keyboard for the weekly gig of the Mingus Big Band. He recorded a string of CDs, dedicated to the likes of Mary Lou Williams, Sonny Clark, Errol Garner, Billy Strayhorn, and Earl Hines. None of these tribute discs would be mistaken for the honored player, as Hicks (to his credit) could never play with anything but his beautiful sound.
The recording On The Wings Of An Eagle is part of Chesky Records' ongoing New York Sessions series of single-point recordings that employ no overdubs, no signal path compression, no multi-tracking and no mixing desk. These audiophile discs playable on a regular CD player and, as an SACD, are the type of discs you take to a stereo component shop to test new speakers for reproduction of the seemingly live experience.
Paired with veterans Buster Williams and Louis Hayes, Hicks kicks off with the jaunty Gigi Gryce track "Minority, taken at near breakneck speed. The ease with which Hicks could maneuver his way around a keyboard is evident throughout and Buster Williams plays with his ever-present stoicism. Bebop flies its flag high on Dexter Gordon's "Cheese Cake and "As Birds Fly. The only track written by Hicks, "As Birds Fly is his dedication to Cedar Walton, his contemporary in swing and piano demeanor.
Two ballads penned by Williams, "Christina and "Stiver's Jewels are both meditative narratives with the bassist alternatively bending notes and walking us through some deeply felt moments. Sammy Cahn's "Dedicated To You showcases Hicks' ability to play just a handful of notes yet express a loving tribute to this classic song.
The choice of the seldom heard Thelonious Monk tune "Balues-Bolivar-Balues-Are is a chance for all three musicians to shine. After they state the theme, Williams propels a walking line over Hick's mimicking Monk-like jabbed strokes and Louis Hayes drops some smart bombs.
The pianist will be sorely missed, but he does leave us with a lengthy catalog of fine sessions to remember him by.
Minority; Fly Little Bird Fly; Strivers Jewels; Balues-Bolivar-Balues-Are; Cheese Cake; Dedicated To You; Minor Mishap; Christina; As Birds Fly (Walton
John Hicks: piano; Buster Williams: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.