Sixth Avenue Romp Heritage
JOYOUS SHOUT RECORDS
Its been quite a career for the masterful drummer Chico Hamilton who, on the occasion of his 85th Birthday, had four CDs issued on the Joyous Shout label. A Los Angeles native he started on clarinet and played in a high school band with Ernie Royal, Jack Kelso, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon and played in such bands as T-Bone Walker, Floyd Ray, Lorenzo Flennoy, Lester Young, and Lionel Hampton. During Army Service in World War 11 studied under Jo Jones and joined Lena Horne in 1948.
He played with Charlie Barnett, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., and Billie Holiday including the Carnegie Hall Concert and later formed his first quartet with Gerry Mulligan and recorded first album as a leader with Pacific Jazz in 1955. A pioneer in chamber jazz he formed an unusual quintet in 1955 with cello, flute, guitar, bass and drums which acquired national following. The quintet’s original personnel included Buddy Collette and Jim Hall. His bands served as an incubator for other talent like Eric Dolphy, Charles Lloyd, Gabor Szabo, Larry Coryell and others. He has been honored as a JazzMaster and remains a vital musician and leader with these four different celebrations of his musical career.
All four discs feature his “Euphoria” group with Cary DeNigris on guitar, Paul Ramsey on bass, Evan Schwam on flute, tenor & soprano saxes, Karolina Strassmayer on flute, alto & soprano saxes, Andrew Hadro on flute, alto & baritone saxes, and Jeremy Carlstedt on percussion.
The first release is Juniflip with guest appearances by the late Arthur Lee of the rock group Love (who shared bills with Hamilton in the sixties), actor-vocalist Bill Henderson and Hamilton alumni, trombonist Georgo Bohanon and bass trombonist Jimmy Cheatham, who augment the Euphoria group and add to the chamber group flavor of the band on the five tracks they appear. On the opening Mr. Hamilton, with its swinging blues groove, they riff behind Eric Schwam’s tenor solo and the horns all add color behind Paul Ramsey’s bass guitar solo. Karolina Strassmeyer opens on flute for A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That, a Hamilton composition that opens with a moody feel before Hamilton picks up the tempo and the trombones trade fours with the saxophones riffing in support. Its marvelous hearing Hamilton driving the band without getting obtrusive and Bohanon sounds very strong here. Vocalist Henderson, evoking Joe Williams, is initially backed by Hamilton for the first few lines of Ain’t She Sweet, then joined by the band on a fresh arrangement of the song that features Henderson scatting with Schwam providing a responsive foil, while his other feature is the standard best known from the big band era, Don’t Be That Way. Again a nice arrangement from Hamilton with the song opening as a duet between Henderson and DeNigris which then shifts into a bossa groove. The old Georgie Fame hit ’Yeah is redone and dedicated to Carlos Santana with a bit more swing (not that the original did not swing) with Cheatham’s bass trombone singing the melody to kick this number off. Lee is heard on What’s Your Story Morning Glory, which was recorded by Saunders King and likely heard growing up by the veteran Hamilton. It opens up with nice guitar from DeNigris which is punctuated by some effectively placed Horn riffs. More storming tenor from Schwam before the tempo slows down for DeNigris’ guitar on Cary’s Footsteps.
Believe, the second release, features guest vocals from the great Fontella Bass as well as trombonist Bohanon, who appears to supplement the playing of Euphoria on several numbers. The opening Evans-ville sports nice bossa groove underlying a flighty flute opening with Bohanon’s trombone adding sum funk before a funky middle section which provides Schwam space for some gritty sax before the closing light bossa groove with more interplay between flute and sax. Bass handles the vocal on Love Me A Long, Long Time, a nice walking blues groove with bebop touches in the vocal and the arrangement of a staple of Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra. ’My Brother Don and My Brother Bernie are Hamilton’s tributes to his brothers and feature more solid ensemble work and soloing. The latter number opens as a languid ballad before hitting a samba groove with Bohanon sweetly taking it home. Bass also sings on Baby Won’t You Please Go Home, which was part of the influential Jimmy Lunceford Band’s repertoire. The opening chorus has just Bass backed by bassist Ramsey with Hamilton and guitarist DeNigris jumping in for the second verse and Schwam adds tenor starting with the third verse. The other Bass vocal is a fine gospel selection, Believe in Him. Ramsey’s bass line for Alive evokes one of Jimi Hendrix’s recording before Schwam lays down some tenor funk. Hamilton and Eurphoria salute the Who on The Kids Are Alright, another delightful indication of Hamilton’s marvelous eclecticism.
Sixth Avenue Romp (referring to Hamilton’s home until he moved to New York in the sixties) is a bit more slanted towards classic rhythm and blues with Shuggie Otis guesting on T-Bone Walker’s Strollin’ With Bone; vocalist Brenna Bavis and Allman Brothers drummer Jaimoe are on a very soulful rendition of Smokey Robinson’s You Really Gotta Hold on Me; and trumpeter Jon Faddis is on muted trumpet and sings on Billy Strayhorn’s immortal Take the A Train. Junior Walker’s Cleo’s Mood and Cleo’s Back provide some gutbucket sax and show Hamilton’s ability to play funky yet still swing, while Hamilton’s high hat and cymbal work help kick off the Basie chestnut Topsy. Hamilton and Euphoria provide a fittingly somber cast to Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine with the horn voicings adding to the feel, while they get the groove going on the Booker T & the MG’s Chicken Pox. The variety here is illustrated by I’m Still Thirsty (Chico’s Accordion Dub), which has a Central American flavor to it and its repeated riff will certainly get the dance floor full.
Heritage is the final CD in this excellent series of recordings. Bohanon adds his signature playing to this disc as does vocalist Marya Lawrence, daughter of former Hamilton band member Arnie Lawrence. This disc finds Chico looking back to his formative influences, Chicano Heritage, as well as several tributes by Hamilton to some of his musical alumni and associates, including Arnie Lawrence (on One for Arnie), Gerry Mulligan (on Mulligan Stew) and Gabor Szabo (on One for Gabor). Marya Lawrence brings a slinky innocence to I Got a Right to Sing the Blues, whose arrangement is based on that of the Gerald Wilson Band and Bohanon channels the blues once more. Her rendition of Love Me or Leave Me, is inspired by Lena Horne’s recording, whose group at the time included Hamilton. There are three Gerald Wilson originals performed including the hot latin-groove of Viva Tirado whose opening sounds like it might have been on a Santana recording from three decades back with DeNigris superb early on this one before Bohanon takes off, and Blues for Yna Yna is another impressive feature for saxophonist Schwam. Hamilton himself takes the vocal with quite a bit of charm on Billy Strayhorn’s marvelous ballad, Something to Live For, with marvelous guitar by DeNigris in support, that conclude this series of recordings on the high level of the earlier releases.
The consistency of these recordings and the continued high level of Hamilton’s playing, show that his music continues to offer us so much.
This review was originally published in the January-February 2007 issue of the Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 290). I have posted it in memory of this jazz legend who recently passed away. These recordings should still be available (and available as downloads).