April 2007

John Hicks, Buster Williams, Louis Hayes - On the Wings of an Eagle
Chesky SACD318
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2007

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Chesky's series of hybrid SACDs, The New York Sessions, continues with a disc that is one of the best. Pairing old hands -- John Hicks on piano, Buster Williams on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums -- hearkens back to the classic days of the '50s and '60s. But, as we are aware, just putting great players together doesn’t always add up to success.

It does here. Hicks is a master pianist who, sadly, passed away late last year. Sad, too, is the fact that despite his obvious talent, he never received the kind of public recognition he deserved. All it will take is one listen to this album to admire his way with a tune, whether it be ballad, up-tempo romp, or blues. He doesn’t play any free jazz on this disc, but he had that ability too. Right from the opening cut the other trio members show they are of a sympathetic mindset and play accordingly.

While both Hicks and Williams add songs to the proceedings, the balance is tunes by some jazz greats that have been too long overlooked as the jazz standards they ought to be: Gigi Gryce’s "Minority," Donald Byrd’s "Fly Little Bird," Thelonious Monk’s "Balues-Bolivar-Balues-Are," Dexter Gordon’s "Cheesecake," and Tommy Flanagan’s "Minor Mishap." There is one actual standard as well, "Dedicated to You."

The sound is right up there with the best the Chesky team has ever recorded. The trio is set between your speakers in both the stereo and four-channel setup Chesky prefers, with the rear speakers used to fill in hall ambience on the multichannel mix. There is plenty of space between the musicians. For Hicks, this disc is a fitting memorial.