Autumnal splendor intermingled with wry humor characterizes Chico Hamilton's Thoughts Of.... The octogenarian drummer, composer and bandleader delivers heartfelt musical portraits of various people with whom he has crossed paths during his extensive career. Legendary figures such as Miles Davis, Lester Young, John Coltrane and Joe Beck as well as deep-house DJ Joe Claussell and British soul-rocker Paul Weller are feted with loving performances. Subtle inventiveness and light-handed swing have always been Hamilton's trump cards, and here he plays them like a master gamesman.
Time hasn't tarnished Hamilton's supple sense of rhythm. Always an impeccably tasteful drummer, he knows how to drive an ensemble with shifting, swinging rhythms that interact nicely with the ensemble players. And it's to Hamilton's credit that he surrounds himself with young guns like guitarists Rodney Jones and Cary DeNigris and saxophonists Erik Lawrence, Evan Schwam and Karolina Strassmayer to keep his musical sensibilities ever contemporary. So, even when Hamilton revisits old warhorses like "Freddie Freeloader" or "Angel Eyes" they bristle, gently, with verve.
There's a cinematic quality to the evocative Thoughts Of.... Maybe it's because of DeNigris' fluid guitar lines and those of special guests Larry Coryell and Jones. On the swampy "Rusty Dusty Blues," Coryell picks out a soft-focused blues solo and accompaniment atop Hamilton's sparkling ride cymbal and crisp snare. Jones shines brightly as well on the hushed "Could Be," which finds his guitar creating weblike cross-patterns in tandem with DeNigris. In addition to the dreamy guitars, the suspenseful horn charts and Hamilton's arrangements are equally filmic. The dancing horn melodies on "Thoughts of Prez" and hazy harmonies on Claussell's "Je Ka Jo" color these evocative tunes with rich, plush hues.
Thoughts Of... does have its missteps. The mawkish version of the show tune "People" and the bossa nova driven "Space for Stacy" sound like cocktail fodder. But for the most part, this introspective date is a delight.