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THE COMPLETE PACIFIC JAZZ RECORDINGS OF THE CHICO HAMILTON QUINTET       (Mosaic MD6-175 [6 CDs; $96.00; limited edition of 5,000])

At least eight years ago I wrote a letter to Michael Cuscuna, the man in charge of the Capitol/Pacific Jazz reissues on CD, pointing out huge gaps in the catalogs. Although virtually everything by, say, Gerry Mulligan or Chet Baker was out on CD, there was nothing by the Chico Hamilton Quintet reissued from Pacific Jazz. (Duke Ellingon's Capitol albums were also -- with the sole exception of his piano trios -- unreissued, despite a great torrent of Ellington albums on other labels in the CD racks. And I complained about the lack of Jimmy Smith's early Blue Note albums while I was at it.)

The only response I ever got to that letter was a catalog from Mosaic. Mosaic is another hat that Cuscuna wears. Mosaic is a "collector's" label. Its collections are available only by mail-order, direct from Mosaic, and are issued in (numbered) editions of 5,000. While most of Mosaic's collections are available on both CD and LP, a few (like a Mingus Columbia set) were available only on LP. Over the years I've bought a few collections. I bought the Mingus set of complete Candid recordings, although I had all the Candid releases (both original LPs and modern CDs), just to collect his contributions from the several anthology albums. I bought the Herbie Nichols Blue Note collection because his three LPs for Blue Note (two 10", one 12") weren't out on CD -- then. Subsequently Blue Note did release a collection duplicating the Mosaic set.

I've noticed that maybe two-thirds of the Mosaic collections (well, of those that caught my eye -- a biased sample, I'll admit) eventually end up in commercial release from the original labels (or their heirs). Sometimes, I suspect, these collections are collaborative efforts between the original label and Mosaic, destined to be released by both eventually, with Mosaic's coming first. Sometimes it's simpler than that -- in cases where Cuscuna controls both the original-label release and the Mosaic release -- as in all EMI jazz product (Capitol, Pacific Jazz, Blue Note, Roulette). Perhaps in such cases the Mosaic is a trial balloon, to test demand and see if a commercial release is justified. But I'm just guessing. As for my letter's requests, Mosaic has now reissued all of the Chico Hamilton Quintet Pacific Jazz albums, plus yet more. Mosaic has collected all of Duke Ellington's Capitol recordings (including unreleased cuts and singles) on another set. And Jimmy Smith's early Blue Note albums are widely available as Japanese imports....

Only the first of the Chico Hamilton Quintet's albums has been imported here (from Japan, where I've heard rumors the second album was also released on CD), although a number of his post-Pacific Jazz albums (including at least two with Eric Dolphy) are available. So this Mosaic collection is essential -- at least for now. It gives us the original six albums, plus Fred Katz's album ZEN (the biggest treasure here), and another album of unreleased (live) recordings.

As is typical with Mosaic, the material is presented chronologically (more or less) and, atypically, it is in the original order presented on the albums. (Maybe the albums were themselves assembled chronologically, or -- more likely -- Mosaic did not have the recording information, track by track, which would have allowed the reassembly of this material in true chronological order. A certain vagueness in the notes about the precise dates of certain recording sessions suggests this.) Oddly, since this is not a collection of all of Chico Hamilton's Pacific Jazz recordings (his trio album is omitted), the collection opens with a drum solo excerpted from a performance with Gerry Mulligan -- not the Chico Hamilton Quintet! (It did, however, appear originally on the Quintet's second album.) But I applaud the inclusion of Fred Katz's album -- also not a Hamilton Quintet recording, although the quintet members play on some tracks, and are augmented with brass and winds on others.


The Chico Hamilton Quintet was a unique chamber-jazz ensemble. Hamilton was the drummer -- ordinarily an odd choice to lead such a group, but Hamilton was probably the most musical drummer in jazz, equal to Shelly Manne in subtlety and finesse, but tempered by his years with Lena Horne into a more musically sensitive attitude. He was joined, in the original Quintet, by Buddy Collette (saxes, flutes, oboe, clarinet), Jim Hall (guitar), Fred Katz (cello), and Carson Smith (bass). This lineup of instruments survived several turnovers in personnel, as Paul Horn replaced Collette, and was himself much later replaced by Eric Dolphy; John Pisano replaced Hall; Hal Gaylor replaced Smith; and Nate Gershman replaced Katz (at the same time Dolphy came in). When Hamilton hired Charles Loyd to replace Dolphy, he also abandoned the original Quintet format and music.

(A sidenote for collectors: Although not credited as such, it is the Chico Hamilton Quintet which plays the music on the first of Ken Nordine's WORD JAZZ albums.)


In its original form the Quintet was a musical equal to its contemporary, the Modern Jazz Quartet. Both played chamber jazz: subtle, contrapuntal music to which each instrument contributed its own line. With the array of instrumentation available to it, the Quintet could cover a broader territory, ranging from the blues propelled by a tenor sax -- or a walking bass -- to something more ethereal from oboe and cello. In addition to their own compositions (every member of the Quintet contributed), they played the occasional standard, and ultimately recorded an album of Ellington music and an album of music from South Pacific (another jazz showtune album). (The album of Ellington's music -- some of which had been in the Quintet's book all along -- is an oddity: It was originally intended that the new Quintet -- with Eric Dolphy -- would record the album, which led to the three tracks with Dolphy that are included in this collection. Then the decision was made to reassemble the original Quintet for the album -- with Paul Horn added, making the Quintet an unacknowledged sextet!)

It's all here: The ELLINGTON SUITE, CHICO HAMILTON PLAYS SOUTH PACIFIC IN HI-FI, and much, much more (as they say). On six CDs there are, in addition to all the original albums, a variety of unreleased takes, including an entire 1957 Town Hall (NYC) concert, only one track from which had been released (on a compilation LP). That concert is notable for a live Quintet version of "Lord Randall," a Fred Katz composition that was a centerpiece for his own album, about which more in a moment.

And there are those three tracks recorded by the Quintet with Eric Dolphy -- most of whose recordings with the Quintet were for Warner Bros. (The collection's annotator, Robert Gordon, reveals a curious bias toward Dolphy: "On 'In A Sentimental Mood' Eric simply states the melody, and there are a couple of spots in which his intonation is suspect. (Eric was not lacking in technical skills, and it may be that his exceedingly personal tone simply would not mesh with the 'straight' reading that he was confined to.)" This is rubbish, as anyone familiar with Dolphy's work -- particularly his subsequent work with the Quintet -- would know. What Gordon hears as "suspect intonation" was anything but: it was Eric's way of making a "straight" tone sing with all the passion of a Johnny Hodges.)

I was really excited when I realized that this collection had a bonus album: Fred Katz's ZEN. It occupies the second half of Disc IV. Katz, a classical celloist and a jazz piano player, turned his cello into a uniquely expressive jazz instrument (both arco/bowed, and pizzicato/plucked) with the Quintet. His music is infused with Jewish soul (the notes refer to Klezmer music at one point), but can become abstract or lyrical. ZEN was his first album as a leader, and it includes the original "Lord Randall," as well as the three-part "Suite for Horn," which is an ambitious piece of music (favorably -- and correctly -- compared with the "Third Stream Music" that would occur a few years later, in the notes). Regretably, this is the only Fred Katz album to make it onto CD in any form. Someone should collect and issue his Decca work, on both his own albums and those of John Pisano.

This collection holds up well, throughout, and comes recommended to all who enjoy ambitious mid-fifties jazz. I'd rather have the original albums (supplimented with bonus tracks, to deal with the originally unreleased material), but I'll take what I can get.

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