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Chico Hamilton: It’s About Time!

Who knew that octogenarian (he turns 87 in September) drummer Chico Hamilton’s recordings are current favorites of dance DJs and mixers? Not most jazz fans, surely. The simultaneous release of these EPs (half-hour and three-quarters of an hour long, respectively) catch us up with both that aspect of his music and his current trio, a mirror image of the one he made his first recordings as leader with in 1955.

Always more inclined to swish, whoosh and thump than snap, crackle and pop as a drummer, while still maintaining a springy, swinging beat, Hamilton’s preference for legato over staccato, subtle over brash, not only made him a favorite with vocalists but also informed his choice of instrumentation in his bands, which eschewed the percussive piano for the more flowing guitar and included such “softer” voices as flute and cello. The trio on It’s About Time! features the guitars (acoustic and electric) of Cary Denigris and electric bass of Paul Ramsey, who are also part of the two combo tracks on The Alternative Dimensions that are not remixes. Those two are the jazz part of that split-personality album, which creates smooth-jazz treatments with vocals and Chico drum samples of “Simple Timeless,” short enough to work, and, for seemingly feckless reasons, two remixes of “Mysterious Maiden,” the second long enough to wear out all but the most dedicated dancer. Hamilton’s sextet (the trio with two saxes and added percussion) version of turntablist Blaze’s “Elevation” (turning the tables on the DJ, so to speak) firmly meets the leader’s criterion for the other EP-“keeping time and swinging time”-in both the modal theme and alternating stop time and 4/4 of the solo sections. And Hamilton’s “accordion dub” of his own calypso “Jim Still Thirsty” is also the EP’s jazziest remix.

The 29 minutes of It’s About Time! are so enticing they leave you wishing this EP were a full CD, especially since a majority of the tracks are tantalizingly short. While Hamilton unleashes a full arsenal of his personal rhythmic approaches-from the eerie tom-tom tattoo foundation of “Autumn in New York” to the rolling, slithery quick-step of “6/8 for Chico”-he also leaves plenty of space for Denigris and Ramsey, including long a cappella solo passages and even a whole drumless track. There are also tasty bits of Hamilton’s melodicism (voicing the theme of “Nod to Gabor”) and, of course, his brushwork-still the best in jazz.

Originally Published