Scott Hamilton / Eddie Higgins / Eddie Higgins Quartet

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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Listening to this CD, which reached a number one chart position in Japan, is like slipping into a bubbly hot tub with a glass of champagne: relaxing and sparkling at the same time. The ever-classy Eddie Higgins Trio is joined throughout by the superb Scott Hamilton, a fluid tenorist in the romantic tradition of Lester Young and Ben Webster, with soul-touching low notes and never a squawk or squeal. Borrowing the perfect image from master critic Whitney Balliett, Hamilton's sound is like "firelit mahogany." All the playing here is elegant and swinging: classic material delivered lovingly and without cliché. Higgins' gentle improvisations are often as beautiful as the original melodies (see, for example, his introduction and solos on the title track). He's also unique in his use of Bach-inspired counterlines to add depth and interest to the harmony; this is particularly evident on the faster tunes like "It's a Lonesome Old Town" and "Lullaby of the Leaves," where these left-hand figures supply extra propulsion and support for Hamilton's solos. Another distinction is the group's approach to "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "When the Sun Comes Out," timeless torch songs that are traditionally angst-ridden features for vocalists; in these hands, the flow of melody transcends any despair associated with the lyrics. Even the opening ballad, "Melancholy Rhapsody," is lightened by the tenderness of the playing. While the liners are in Japanese, the superb quality of the music needs no translation. Recommended.

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