“The Best of Chico Hamilton” is a collection of music that Hamilton recorded for the Impulse label. These songs were recorded between 1963 and 66, and were so ahead of their time, that even though “Best of” did not come out until 1969, most of these songs were still ahead of the curve. Much of that first wave of fusion and Latin fusion that will hit in the late 60s can be traced back to Hamilton’s mid 60s albums on Impulse. Even following the musicians tells a story, as Hamilton’s saxophonist on several of these cuts, Charles Lloyd, will leave Hamilton’s band to form an early proto fusion group with Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarret, both of whom will eventually join Miles Davis’ early fusion group. You can also hear the beginnings of the west coast Latin rock movement on many of these songs too.
Almost all of these tracks feature a core group of Al Stinson on bass, Gabor Szabo on guitar and Hamilton on drums. Gabor is by far the main soloist, with Charles Lloyd showing up on a few tracks, and Larry Coryell covering guitar on one blues track that sounds out of place with the rest of the material. Most of the cuts on “Best of Chico” are pretty solid, with a few that are not the best, which leads to the question, did the producers of this album pick the best material? Overall it seems they didn’t do too bad of a job; songs like “Forest Flower” and “Conquistadors” are essential early Latin fusion, and “Evil Eye” is an excellent exotic gem, but two well known pop ballades, while played imaginatively, maybe could have been replaced with something a little more substantial. Finally, Coryell’s bluesy “Larry of Arabia” is pure fluff and a waste of space.
Chico Hamilton played a wide variety of styles during the course of his career, and this album is a fairly good, but not outstanding, sampling of what he was up to during the mid 60s.