Chico Hamilton and Euphoria – The Inquiring Mind (2014)

Chico Hamilton rose to individual fame in the 1950s with an Eric Dolphy-fired chamber jazz unit, but there was always something angular, something interesting and offbeat happening — even dating back to 1959’s That Hamilton Man, an album dominated by this quiet melancholy.

Later, Hamilton’s ever more appealingly abstract style of percussion drove a series of recordings that roved far afield — from the Far Eastern accents on 1989’s Reunion to his first sessions with the aptly named Euphoria in the early 1990s. He never stopped pushing, never stopped exploring new angles, never stopped period. Then, as now on the posthumously released Inquiring Minds, Hamilton operates with a guitarist in place of the traditional keyboardist, thus opening up still more space for improvisational brilliance.

“I always had just the guitar, starting with Howard Roberts, myself and George Duvivier (as part of his mid-1950s trio),” Hamilton told me, in 2011. “Back then, with all the piano players I knew, I didn’t like the way they played. I’ve always found the guitar to be a more melodic instrument. And I like the way it fit in with my instrument. Like most percussionists, I never thought about my instrument being just a drum. I wanted to do more with it, you know?”

Same here. Together with a retooled modern-day edition of Euphoria, Hamilton shows himself to a wonder of ageless, idiomatic propulsion, but at the same the master of taste. Even at 92, he could erupt into a brim-stoned fury, but yet he returns, time and again, to a discreet sense of texture and style. The names have changed over the years — saxist Eric Person and bassist Reggie Washington (from Euphoria’s 1990 debut Arroyo) are succeeded here by Evan Schwam and Paul Ramsey, respectively — but not the steady presence of the now-sorely missed Hamilton.

You get the sense of Hamilton’s ceaseless enthusiasm for life on the samba “Joy of Spring,” and — after a switch to mallets — his awareness that time was shortening on “Tone Poem.” And yet, there is no give in Hamilton, no slide into depressive rumination. He welcomes back George Bohanon, a trombonist with the early 1960s-era Hamilton Quintet featuring Gabor Szabo and Charles Lloyd, but make no mistake: The aptly named Inquiring Mind is looking ever ahead, never behind. “Gateway to the Inquiring Mind,” featuring a spoken-word meditation from Hamilton, underscores his free-flowing curiosity.

“An original sound is what I am still trying to express with this group — and all of my groups,” Hamilton added, just before Euphoria’s most recent release, Revelation. “Man, all you have going for you is your own sound.”

That he could pull so much out of a group of relative unknowns, so late in life, speaks to that unfailing focus, and to his ability to inspire. Drummer Jeremy Carlstedt, flautist Mayu Saeki and guitarist Nick Demopolous match Hamilton stride for stride on The Inquiring Mind, likely because the ever-focused Hamilton — whatever his advanced age — would have it no other way.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B00IJQE8AU” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B001CV191K” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B005LPIZ38″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B000B2WJVK” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00I9O1XNC” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.