Sunday, April 10, 2011

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #28

John Hicks.  Music In The Key Of Clark (2002).  About 20 years ago, not knowing much about jazz, I went to see pianist John  Hicks at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, a beach house in Half Moon Bay, California, that holds jazz concerts on Sunday afternoons.  Hicks on piano was joined by Chico Freeman on saxophone and (his future wife) Elise Wood on flute.  Whether it was the beautiful setting, the intimacy of the performance, or the sheer brilliance of Hicks' piano playing, I became a jazz fanatic literally overnight.  I was privileged to see John Hicks again years later at Sweet Basil, a jazz club in New York where he became a fixture.  In between sets I was able to tell him how important his playing had been to me, and his subdued, gracious response was quite a contrast to the ferocity with which he had just attacked the piano.  John Hicks could play anything from straight ahead jazz to hard bop to avant-garde.  Whatever style he played, "dense physicality and intense energy were the hallmarks of his approach."  Hicks, who died at the age of 64 in 2006, started his prolific career with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, followed by stints with the great singer Betty Carter and with Woody Herman's big band.  He played with countless jazz giants without ever becoming one himself for reasons that are a mystery to me.  Late in his career, Hicks recorded several fabulous tribute albums, including those for Earl Hines (Fatha's Day, 2003), Mary Lou Williams (Impressions of Mary Lou, 2000), Errol Garner (Nightwind, 1999), Billy Strayhorn (Something To Live For, 1998), and the one recommended here, for another unsung yet incredible pianist, Sonny Clark.  As one reviewer described the album,"Hicks calls attention to his predecessor's legacy with superb trio versions of pieces from Clark's huge output as a composer."  Another wrote, that the overall desired effect of "such a brilliant release is to make one want to obtain earlier CDs by John Hicks and also to look for the original versions by Sonny Clark."  Indeed.

[Related posts:  Great Jazz Albums,  #1 (Hank Mobley), #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons); #22 (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers); #23 (Red Garland); #24 (Ella Fitzgerald); #25 (Charlie Parker); #26 (Art Pepper); #27 (Bud Powell)]

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