This is the fourth Fresh Sound CD reissuing drummer Chico Hamilton's early ensembles to come out, and it is perhaps his most important grouping. The quintet played originals and standard covers that combined elements of Eastern and Western strains of mainstream and chamber jazz with instruments like flute, cello, and guitar. Hamilton created new music that some scratched their heads at, but most understood and enjoyed its softer tones and rounded edges. These studio works from four Los Angeles based sessions released on the Pacific Jazz, World Pacific, and Decca labels stem from the second version of Hamilton's quintet, which originally included Jim Hall and Buddy Collette. When Hall joined the Jimmy Giuffre trio, the tasteful guitarist John Pisano was recruited, then original woodwind player Buddy Collette left for greener pastures, and multi-instrumentalist Paul Horn was asked to join. Cellist Fred Katz and bassist Carson Smith remained, retaining the classical spirit of the group, but the addition of Pisano and Horn did nothing to diminish what the ensemble sound had attained, and would embellish. And it is their compositions that distinguish this music from any other group of the era, save that of Dave Brubeck. Smith's "Chanel #5" is a fluid, sprightly flute/cello waltz with Horn's Paul Desmond style alto sax added on. "Beanstalk" is an easy swinger merging melodies of "Love Me or Leave Me" and "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," while "Mr. Smith Goes to Town" takes off with Smith's witty bass leading the charge. Of the classically oriented compositions of Katz, the beautiful ballad "Lillian" is as romantic as can be with Horn's alto singing his heart out, while "Reflections" has Horn's evocative and pristine flute countering a pristine cello from the author. Hall's tunes remained in the repertoire, especially the extraordinary "Siete-Cuatro" in 7/8 with ostinato bass, Horn's wonderful textures on alto, repeat guitar lines, legato cello, and tambourine accents. There are three abbreviated versions of Hall's band theme "I Know," a classic read of "Satin Doll," an intriguing calypso infused "Soft Winds," an outstanding take of "September Song" where Horn's clarinet and the cello of Katz weep mournfully about the change of season and lost love, and a fine flute front loaded Latin snake charmer style identifying the classic "Caravan." Collette also left behind "Blue Sands" and "The Ghost," performed on the Stars of Jazz ABC television program on Christmas Eve of 1956. The former is an exotic discourse in mysterious notions, the latter using very clever interplay between the five instrumentalists. Hamilton plays brushes and little instruments for the most part, composed two tracks where he is the featured soloist, and co-composed another four with Katz that appeared in the film of Sweet Smell of Success. There is a full CD of that movie soundtrack available on a separate CD that is the fifth reissued Fresh Sound CD featuring this ensemble. While this is not absolutely the complete studio recordings of this legendary ensemble, it is ultimately substantive, representing a marvelous sound that is as appealing as any in the modern post-bop idiom, and ranks favorably with any chamber jazz attempts of any era.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos