Mind Wine: The Music of John Hicks
The title of this richly deserved tribute session is a bit misleading, for in addition to seven pieces composed by the late pianist John Hicks, the program closes with a flute-limned performance of Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose.” It’s a nice touch, and a fitting coda, too, considering how the Ellington-Strayhorn songbook consistently inspired Hicks over the years.
Hicks, who died in 2006, also knew a thing or two about how to fashion a tribute recording worthy of its subject—witness his salutes to Strayhorn and Mary Lou Williams, among others. Whether Hicks would have chosen the pieces included here is anyone’s guess, but it’s hard to imagine him not being delighted by the lineup: pianist Larry Willis, flutist Elise Wood-Hicks (the pianist’s widow), saxophonist Craig Handy, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Steve Williams.
The presence of horns is particularly welcome, something that is apparent from the outset, during the performance of the album’s swirling and lustrous title track. The band comes out swinging hard, thanks primarily to Williams. Yet the drummer best known for sensitively accompanying Shirley Horn also displays his signature finesse with brushes when the mood calls for it—on “Heart to Heart,” for instance, a lyrical showcase for Henderson, Willis and Wood-Hicks. Of the ballads, however, none seems better suited to this ensemble’s resources than “Naima’s Love Song,” with its blossoming orchestration, vibrant harmonies and rhapsodic solos.