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January/February 1999

John Hicks
Trio Plus Strings
Mapleshade Records

Surely John Hicks is known to all as a top-notch pianist, and a man who is so accomplished as an accompanist himself will select superior musicians like Steve Novosel and Ronnie Burrage (Steve Williams drums on one track) as his rhythm team as a matter of course. Strings are not everyone's bag, but Larry Willis' arrangements are unobtrusive and quite interesting on their own. What I do have trouble with is the flute very much in the center of things-nothing against Elise Wood but there's not 10% of jazz flute that I actively enjoy and half of that is Dolphy.

Listeners who share my prejudice should consider this one anyway, not just because six of ten tracks are solo or trio but also because Hicks the writer is showcased in a way that deserves attention. His writing evokes Strayhorn (whose "Passion Flower" is the one non-original), Evans, Ibrahim, and perhaps even Elmo Hope, whom I take to be the subject of "Peace for E. H." This is mature, masterful composing and playing that's worth hitting the skip button (if you must) to hear.

Originally published in January/February 1999
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