Over half a century later, these recordings made by drummer Chico Hamilton between 1955-1956 with his first quintet sound as fresh and unusual as they must have back in the day. The instrumentation of this group helped to form Hamilton's ear for many of the projects he was involved in and bands he would lead throughout his career. The group consisted of Hamilton, Buddy Collette on reeds and woodwinds, bassist Carson Smith, cellist Fred Katz, and guitarist Jim Hall. Given what was transpiring on both coasts at the time -- hard bop out East and the cool sound in the West -- this music walked beyond them both. The varying textures and harmonic possibilities for a group with this instrumentation presented not only unique opportunities but unique challenges as well. In the 21st century, it sounds almost cinematic -- especially on standards like "My Funny Valentine," with a counterpoint, almost modal, lyric line played by Collette as Katz tackles the melody in the lower registers of his instruments. But it's the originals here that are so striking: the tom-tom heavy polyrhythmic structure of Collette's "Blue Sands," the uptempo bass and clarinet sprint that opens Smith's "Jonalah," and Hall's lithe, sprightly, midtempo ballad "Chrissie," with its three-part counterpoint using guitar, flute and cello in a knotty yet seamless labyrinth. In other words, the 15 tracks here, whether familiar numbers such as Russ Freeman's "The Wind," or Collette's banging "The Ghost" all come off as somehow otherworldly because of the complex yet utterly accessible melodic invention even in the most intricate of harmonic engagements. This set, issued by Spain's Fresh Sound imprint as one of four different volumes of Hamilton's early music, contains exhaustive liner notes, current retrospective interviews with all the living players, and decent sound.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek