It was 1960, and drummer Chico Hamilton felt the need for a change. He had achieved sustained success with his late-1950s West Coast chamber jazz group, which had been prominently featured in the Hollywood movie Sweet Smell Of Success and the quickly-legendary Jazz On A Summer’s Day documentary, and which had included top-notch players such as Buddy Collette, Eric Dolphy, and Jim Hall.
But Hamilton would later remark that he felt trapped by the group’s sound and its appeal, and as the new decade dawned he disbanded and started over. For the first few years of the 1960s Hamilton would lead one of his most compelling ensembles, driven in large part by a trio of formidable young talents–the writing of saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd and the playing of ex-Hungarian freedom fighter and guitarist Gabor Szabo and bassist Albert Stinson.
Hamilton also dropped the cello from his format and replaced it with trombone, giving the quintet an earthier sound. Lloyd’s saxophone playing was strongly influenced by John Coltrane, which also gave the new group more heft—but the continuing use of flute and guitar made Hamilton’s break with his recent past perhaps less radical than he thought at first, as if he was now moving towards a harder, more soulful, 60s-oriented chamber jazz sound. For a few albums the results were increasingly dynamic, with the group first really hitting its stride on its Columbia LP Drumfusion.
Hamilton’s career would endure well beyond the 1960s and into a new century, and he would extend his music-making into film-scoring and more commercial ventures as well, but to this day his 1950s chamber-jazz group continues to overshadow the excellent ensembles that he led in the early and mid 1960s. In addition to Drumfusion, this Night Lights program features music from the Hamilton albums Different Journey, Passin’ Thru, Man From Two Worlds, and The Dealer.