Friday, April 29, 2016

John Hicks Quartet featuring Bobby Watson - Naima's Love Song (DIW, 1988)

This very fine piece of straight-ahead jazz was recorded in Tokyo in April of 1988, with an excellent band consisting of John Hicks on piano, Bobby Watson on alto saxophone, Curtis Lundy on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. They produced a no-nonsense album touching on blues, bop and ballads and showing impeccable craftsmanship throughout. “Elementary, My Dear Watson” leads off the album with the group developing a nice easy swing tempo with strong bass playing and deeply hewn saxophone. The accompaniment of the group is excellent and Hicks takes a wonderfully graceful piano solo as well. Watson’s saxophone drifts over currents supplied by the trio on “Someday Soon.” The rhythm section keeps things clean and mellow, with rippling piano, elastic bass and swinging drums but things soon change as the pace is kicked up and Watson responds by launching himself into a killer solo that is fast, exciting and hard blowing. He bows out to Lundy who makes a fine statement of his own before the band pulls together once again to conclude a very fine performance. Mal Waldron’s ballad composition “Soul Eyes” is given a beautiful reading, with Watson achieving a beautiful saxophone tone and Hicks soloing with exquisite grace over subtle bass and drums. “On the One” charges hard from the beginning with Watson bowing super hard saxophone over taut piano, bass and drums. There is a strong percussively natured solo from Hicks accompanied by strongly pulled bass and thrashing drums. The bebop standard “Pent Up House” is a blast to hear, played fast and spikey with a ferocious forward momentum. The piano, bass and drums unit is a runaway freight train, but Hicks cedes much of the spotlight to Watson who definitely makes the most of it by soloing at light speed, playing face-forward bop on the alto saxophone in the grand Charlie Parker tradition. Finally there is a nod to John Coltrane in the closing title cut, “Naima’s Love Song” which is a beautiful ballad. Bobby Watson’s yearning saxophone cries and Curtis Lundy’s thick and powerful bass are the anchor of the recording, before making way for a stoic John Hicks piano solo. The album ends passionately with emotional playing from Watson framed by the subtle rhythm trio. Although opportunities may have been scant in the USA in this time period, musicians as talented as these men were found a home on many of the overseas labels that were very active during this period. This and albums like it are well worth seeking out. Naima's Love Song -

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