CHICO HAMILTON — El Chico (review)

CHICO HAMILTON — El Chico album cover Album · 1965 · Latin Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
js
Chico Hamilton is one of the more overlooked artists to come out of the west coast’s creative music scene in the late 50s and early 60s. A second look at his career is deserved as he helped originate that peculiarly west coast style of jam session that draws on Latin and Asian influences, as well as an open “anything goes’ sort of attitude. His combination of Latin rhythms and raga style modal excursions will blossom during the late 60s Latin rock explosion involving Santana, Malo, Azteca, El Chicano and more, and his music will also influence many of the new fusion bands such as the early Return to Forever.

In many ways, Chico’s “El Chico” is mostly a collection of jam sessions, and there are plenty of great solos, mostly from guitarist Gabor Szabo, but much of this record is more about the Latin grooves and the way the band’s three member percussion section rides those grooves. Gabor shines with his ‘raga’ style guitar solos that slowly build, many songs feature only Gabor, but there are also occasional flute and sax solos from the brilliant Sadao Watanabe.

Some highlights on here include side two opener “Conquistadors”, with its driving Latin boogaloo beat, and “El Moors”, a percussion driven exotic flute melody with a bit of Sun Ra flavor. The albums peaks though with “Strange”, an alto sax ballade that Hamilton used to play with Eric Dolphy. This is Sadao ‘s moment to shine as he plays the beautiful melody while invoking Dolphy’s idol, Charlie Parker, as well as Eric himself. Fans of west coast jazz from the late 50s to the early 60s know that this music exists in a world all its own, and Chico’s “El Chico” is a great example of that world of bongo beating beatniks that will soon give way to acid rock and jazz fusion.
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