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Chico Hamilton – The Master 50th anniversary reissue (Craft)

27 December 2023

Reissued for the 50th anniversary of its original Stax release for Record Store Day Black Friday, this album of instrumental tracks finds “cool jazz” drummer Chico Hamilton supported for a feast of swampy soul-rock and southern boogie by the members of Little Feat. “One Day Five Months Ago” is a linear groove that allows every player to step forward with personality. Lowell George leads the charge with bristling slide guitar. Jerry Aiello plays percolating and stirring Hammond organ while Bill Payne unleashes flurries of piano lines. Sam Clayton’s relentless conga joins Hamilton in the rhythm section alongside the deep groove of bassist Kenny Gradney. Paul Barrere’s guitar slices through the uptempo groove of “Feels Good.” “Fancy” alternates between terse funk and breezy swing. Hamilton’s brushed drumming fuels the forward motion of organist Stu Gardner’s “Stu,” with an urgent verse and a jazz turnaround to make Becker and Fagen swoon. “Gengis” is a dimly-lit meditation that broadens the album’s emotional palette. Updated track “Conquistadores ‘74” hops with a lively Latin groove. The album wraps with the sparkling and light “Stacy” and the lowdown Latin-funk of “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” (not to be confused with the 1967 single by British rockers The Move). This collection of improvisational jams and jazz-shaped pop won’t convince you that Richie Hayward wasn’t the perfect drummer for Little Feat, but The Master does effectively showcase Hamilton’s prodigious talent as a rhythmist while showing that George and company could apply their signature sounds with versatility. Hamilton made his reputation alongside jazz greats including Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Count Basie. In 1973, he showed that he still had his ear to the ground and possessed a desire to take his music into every available direction.