Monday, June 01, 2009

Give It A Taste

Chico Hamilton
Twelve Tones of Love (preview)

Review by Michael G. Nastos
Of Chico Hamilton's nearly dozen albums in the 2000s, this one is different in that it features a larger ensemble than the others, a septet up to a nonet, a handful of duets, and is chock-full of many new compositions from the drummer's hand that represents a synopsis of his previous seven decades in jazz, updating that history with tributes to his favorite musicians, bandmates, friends, and his wife. Hamilton sings a little, plays the drum kit a lot, and leads this group of new names, the veteran trombonist George Bohanon, and mainstay guitarist Cary DeNigris, who himself is more subdued than on recent recordings. Tenor saxophonist Evan Schwam and alto saxophonist Eddie Barbash both triple on soprano sax and flute, and are very integrated into the modern concept Hamilton has honed for decades, sounding very comfortable with their substantial roles. A master of nuance and mood setting, Hamilton's modus operandi is to play the intro of a tune in free floating time, then bust out with a static rhythm. He's also inclined to offer up multiple rhythm changes in any given composition. For instance, "Happiness Prevails" displays a churning hi-hat rhythm before nosediving into thin air, then hitting up a waltz tempo. A down/up theme introduces the horns on the "Charlie Parker Suite" where chunky funk displaces bebop. Bohanon's feature, "George," starts with a vocal chant of his name, a trombone call out, then an easy swing under his plunger induced wah-wah solo. "Penthouse A," which includes alto saxophonist Ian Young, features the roiling, tango-like cymbal rhythm that is Hamilton's signature, the band does a classic take of the swing-to-bop standard "Broadway," the flutes and a fluttery bassline identify the stripped down blues swing "Nonchalant," and the horns languish in elegance for "Steinway," an homage to Gerald Wilson, with phrases from "Afro-Blue" in 6/8 time welded in place. Up-and-comer Jose James sings in a rather plaintive tone for "Lazy Afternoon" under Hamilton's rumbling mallet tom-tom rhythms, while the vocal numbers from the leader include his gruff but soft poetry reading on "Really Makes My Day," and singing for the American popular song "I Don't Know Why." The CD concludes with duets featuring alto saxophonist Jack Kelso on a reflective "Brother Bob," then starting with a distant Kelso and a Wes Montgomery influenced DeNigris, with Hamilton replacing the guitarist for the finale "The Alto of Kelso." Clearly there's much gas in the tank for the eighty-something drummer, as he keeps cranking out fine recordings one after another in his golden years, all sounding fresh, inventive, and musically challenged. This one is no exception, and in fact is enhanced by the variety of group settings and the excellent work of the newcomers in the sax section.
Preview Tracks:
1 A Piece of Music
2 Happiness Prevails
3 George
Balance of Tracks:
4 Nonchalant
5 Lazy Afternoon
6 Charlie Parker Suite
7 Penthouse A
8 On the Trail
9 Broadway
10 If You Can't Beat 'em, Fight 'em
11 Really Makes My Day
12 First Light
13 Raoul
14 Steinway
15 I Don't Know Why (I Just Do)
16 Lonely Woman
17 Brother Bob
18 The Alto of Kelso
This is a 3 track PREVIEW ONLY
Give it a taste
Buy the complete album on iTunes.

Chico Hamilton live performance at Borders Bookstore