Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Chico Hamilton Trio: Live @ Artpark

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

These two newly released recordings-Hamilton with his trio in 1994, and his duets with Hill from 1993-will only serve to bolster Hamilton’s reputation as one of the most polished, adventurous and inquisitive drummers in jazz, as well as that of being an adept composer. In his seventies at the time of these sessions, Hamilton exhibits his provocative authority in a fusion setting with his long-time guitarist Cary DeNegris and Jaco-inspired Fender bassist Matthew Garrison (son of Jimmy), and separately with the abstract explorations of pianist Hill.

The varied trio pieces range from the funky “Ain’t Nobody Calling Me,” the spacey moodiness of “A Little After Twelve,” the waltzing melodicism of “First Light,” the bluesy “These Are the Dues,” the bossa nova rhythms of “Denise,” the free-form “Sculpture,” and the all-out jazz-rock jam of “C&C.” On Lester Young/Jon Hendricks’ “Tickle Toe,” Hamilton even scats deftly à la Hendricks. The drummer’s entire arsenal is on display, from scintillating cymbal splashes and crisp brushwork to unbeatable mallet excursions. DeNegris displays both intensity and sensitivity as is required, and always a truly virtuosic technique. Garrison’s nimble dexterity is impressive as well, highly assertive but never overwhelming the trio’s textures. And you can tell that the audience for this Artpark Jazz Festival set really appreciated what they were hearing. (Footage from this performance can be seen in Julian Benedikt’s 1994 documentary film, Chico Hamilton-Dancing to a Different Drummer.)

Hamilton’s encounter with Hill is not quite as cohesive. Only their second time performing together, it is a hit-or-miss affair. On “Ohho,” Hill’s laid-back phrasing is opposed by Hamilton’s machine-gun like attack, the result occasionally grating. “Three Notes and a Brush” works better, with Hill’s unresolving blues-tinged runs and resonant left-hand bass line supported effectively by Chico’s cymbal accents. “Watch that Dream” is hindered by Hamilton’s monotonous tambourine-only rhythms, despite Hill’s lyrical, harmonically rich note clusters and arpeggios. The successful “And the Drums Sing” features the pianist’s dissonant, Monk-ish chords and the drummer’s rumbling mallet work. “Clifford’s Gone” is a beautiful Hill lament, probably written for Clifford Jordan, with whom Hill recorded (or perhaps not for him, since Jordan died the day after this studio date was completed). “Bless That Dream, Maybe Hope” wanders and never really catches fire. “Composition B” contains a catchy motif that is repeated by Hill with variations and diversions, complemented by Hamilton’s perfect shuffle rhythm in counterpoint, but his later choppy punctuations and the selection’s nine-minute length lead to stagnation.

Finally, the bebop classic “Shaw Nuff” goes from Hill’s off-kilter ragtime and Monk and early Cecil Taylor allusions to a curious gospel-flavored conclusion. Hill’s rubato expressiveness and Hamilton’s emphatic, lucidly articulated solo make this one of their best tracks.