Chico Hamilton – Reunion; Arroyo; Trio!; My Panamanian Friend; Dancing To A Different Drummer – Black Saint/ Soul Note/CAM (5-CDs)

Chico Hamilton – Reunion; Arroyo; Trio!; My Panamanian Friend; Dancing To A Different Drummer – (The Complete Remastered Recordings) – Black Saint/ Soul Note/CAM BXS 1029 (5-CDs) [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] 

(CD 1 – Reunion: Chico Hamilton – drums,vocal; Buddy Collette – flute, clarinet, also saxophone; Fred Katz – cello; John Pisano – guitar; Carson Smith – bass; CD 2 – Arroyo: Chico Hamilton – drums, vocals; Cary Denigris – guitar; Eric Person – alto and soprano saxophone; Reggie Washington – bass; CD 3 – Trio!: Chico Hamilton – drums; Cary Denigris – guitar; Eric Person – alto, soprano and sopranino saxophone; CD 4 – My Panamanian Friend: Chico Hamilton – drums; Cary Denigris – guitar; Eric Person – alto saxophone and flute; Kenny Davis – bass; CD 5 – Dancing To A Different Drummer: Chico Hamilton – drums, percussion, slapaphone, tympani, tambourine, gong, vocals)

Chico Hamilton was a drummer who was born and raised on the West Coast and played with a sensibility informed by the early days of the cool era. His first noticeable recognition came as part of the first Gerry Mulligan piano-less quartet in 1952-53. In the mid-fifties, he started his own piano-less quintet (reeds, guitar, cello, bass, drums) that was one of the few remaining bands of this West Coast cool period. With a restrained drumming style, which for the most part featured his feather-light brush strokes, his importance and influence as a drummer might not have received the acclamation it deserved.

The five albums in this box set cover a period from 1989 to 1993, and embrace a variety of styles and bands, but demonstrated that Chico Hamilton was still an important force as a drummer, composer, and leader. The first album is the aptly titled Reunion as it brings together the quintet (except John Pisano replaces the first guitarist Jim Hall) of the mid-fifties. The group eschews trying to relive the past apart from “I Want To Be Happy” and concentrates their efforts on playing compositions from the band members. All the tunes have a modern structure and work surprising well for a group whose instrumentation is rooted in the 1950s. Of particular interest is “Delightful, Charming and Cool” which has a Latin tempo and features Buddy Collette on clarinet. “Brushin’ With B” is a duet between Collette on flute and Hamilton which features his wonderful brush work. [However this disc is entirely different from the similar-instruments “chamber jazz” LPs the band recorded for the Pacific Jazz label in the 1950s…Ed.]

Arroyo is a quartet session featuring Eric Person who plays both alto and soprano sax and has a strong post-bop style. He is also featured on two of the other albums in this set namely, Trio! and My Panamanian Friend. In this intriguing offering, most of the compositions are from Hamilton with two notable exceptions. Firstly the Dietz/Schwartz standard “Alone Together” and the Jon Hendricks/Lester Young number “Tickle Toe” which became an integral part of the Count Basie band book. In this latter number, Chico Hamilton  opens  and closes with scat vocal of the theme, much of which is in harmony with guitarist Cary Denigris. Both Person and Denigris take long well-thought-out solos. On the former, Person is the featured player and is pushed along by Hamilton’s intricate drumming patterns.

Trio! in many ways is an album that defies description. Harmonically intricate but musically sparse, it is a reflection of the tonal direction that Hamilton was headed at the time of the recording in the early 1990s. Working from compositions that were written by members of the group, they embody an aesthetic that defied strict time-signatures, but capitalized on Hamilton’s command of the drum kit. “A Little After Twelve” has a bossa inflection that is filled with inter-action among the group but with lean melodic lines. Eric Person wrote “10th Vision” which gives his soprano saxophone a frame to explore a motif that builds off Hamilton’s tom-tom drumming and guitarist Denigris’ repetitive phrasing. This is an interesting musical exploration but certainly not Hamilton’s usual fare.

Eric Dolphy joined Chico Hamilton’s Quintet in the late 1950s and although he was not with the band for long, his impact lasted longer. My Panamanian Friend is Hamilton’s tribute to Dolphy with eight of the nine compositions recorded as part of this session being Dolphy originals. Among the standouts are “Springtime” which an acoustic guitar showcase for Cary Denigris and is filled with flamenco styled runs and flourishes. “South Street Exit” swings along with Eric Person’s flute leading the way and Denigris’s guitar providing able support. “Something Sweet, Something Tender” is a free-form alto exploration by Person with guitarist Denigris pitching in with a strong solo. Both Hamilton and bassist Kenny Davis lay out on this tune

The final album in this set is “Dancing To A Different Drummer” which is a master class in solo drumming by Chico Hamilton. Ranging over his drum kit, Hamilton explores rhythm in all its forms and styles. Always known for his impeccable brush work, Hamilton gives a terrific imitation of a tap dancer on “Tap Drums”. The drummer Jo Jones propelled the Count Basie Band and Hamilton shows how this was done with his cymbal style on “Mr. Jo Jones”. The final track is “The Snare Drum” which demonstrates the paradiddle in all its forms and styles. [Hamilton was one of those few jazz drummers who played his drum set like it was a musical instrument, and not just banging away…Ed.]

Chico Hamilton died on November 25, 2013, at age 92. Even though his earliest inspiration was the drummer Sonny Greer from the Duke Ellington Band, Hamilton’s own developed style was more understated and refined. These sessions from the drummer’s later career, may not have had the impact as those earlier recordings of his quintet period, they nevertheless confirm his place as one of the greats in jazz drumming.

—Pierre Giroux

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