Jazz CD Reviews

The John Hicks Legacy Band – Mind Wine – The Music of John Hicks – Savant

A loving tribute to a jazz piano master.

Published on September 1, 2008

The John Hicks Legacy Band – Mind Wine – The Music of John Hicks – Savant
The John Hicks Legacy Band – Mind Wine – The Music of John Hicks – Savant SCD 2096, 53:51 ****1/2:

(Elise Wood-Hicks – flute; Craig Handy – soprano & tenor sax; Eddie Henderson – trumpet (#4-6); Larry Willis- piano; Curtis Lundy – bass; Steve Williams – drums)

John Hicks’ untimely passing in 2006 was a major loss to the jazz community. His piano playing graced the bands of a diverse collection of jazz figures ranging from Art Blakey, Hank Mobley, and Pharoah Sanders to more avant fare from the likes of David Murray and Arthur Blythe. Recording originally for Strata East, Hicks perhaps became most well known for a series of tributes of “songbook” CDs honoring jazz piano legends Earl Hines, Sonny Clark, Mary Lou Williams, Errol Garner and Billy Strayhorn. You could always count on Hicks to both honor the legend of these pianists, but he also added his distinctive touch to each tribute.

We reviewed his last High Note issue, Sweet Love of Mine, recorded just a few weeks before his death of May 10, 2006. Its moving compositions were a bittersweet reminder of how much Hicks will be missed. Thus, it is such good news that both Hicks’ widow, Elise, and his good friend, Larry Willis, have assembled a legacy band that hopefully will continue to record to honor the memory of John. Though only married to Hicks for five years, Elise had been playing music with John for much longer. Elise and Larry want the world to know that Hicks should have been admired for being a major composer, and not just as a brilliant interpreter of other composers’ work.

They have begun to remedy this situation with Mind Wine, as its eight compositions are all Hicks’ originals. The rhythm section of bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer, Steve Williams, were regular sidemen with Hicks. The front line horns of trumpeter, Eddie Henderson, and saxist, Craig Handy, need no introduction, and Elise’s flute shadings have added much to Hicks’ work for some time. Handy takes center stage on the title track and Wood-Hicks flute is ethereal. After the Morning features a gorgeous blend of Elise’s flute with Handy’s soprano sax. Blues in the Pocket gives Curtis Lundy a chance to show his bass prowess.

Eddie Henderson contributes to the middle section of the CD with his muted trumpet on a beautiful ballad, Heart to Heart, where Larry Willis piano mastery honors Hicks as well. Two tracks honoring Hicks’ daughter – Yemenja, and Naima’s Love Song – are highlights of this tribute as Elise’s flute is striking on the former, and the Latinesque reading of the latter where once again Henderson’s warm tone matches Woods’ flute, and Willis’ lyrical contributions. This special CD closes with a duet between Woods-Hicks, and Willis on the Ellington gem, Single Petal of a Rose. Its significance is felt as Elise and John Hicks previously recorded this duet on an album for Mapleshade in 1994.  This CD should belong in the collection of any John Hicks fan.

TrackList: Mind Wine, After the Morning, Blues in the Pocket, Heart to Heart, Yemenja, Naima’s Love Song, Avotja, Single Petal of a Rose

– Jeff Krow

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