"The music world lost a great soul May 10th of this year, with the passing of pianist John Hicks.

Known as a "musician's musician," Hicks enjoyed a forty-plus year career during which he performed with a who's who of jazz performers, without ever becoming a household name, however. (The mechanics of stardom are still a mystery to me, although the music industry executives have a lot to answer for. Suffice it to say that American Idol's Taylor Hicks' name came up first when I googled John Hicks!) In any case, Hicks was a consummate professional who worked most notably with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and the Betty Carter Trio, but also with blues legends Little Milton and Albert King and jazz greats Al Grey, Johnny Griffin, Pharaoh Sanders Kenny Dorham, Lou Donaldson, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Carmen McRae, Freddie Hubbard, Frank Foster, Roy Haynes, Sonny Stitt, Jon Hendricks, James Moody, David Murray, Arthur Blythe, fellow pianist Kenny Barron, Joshua Redman, Al Grey, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Grady Tate, Charles Tolliver, Oliver Lake, Roy Hargrove, Gary Bartz, Bobby Watson, David Murray, David Newman, Hannibal Peterson, Walter Booker, Billy Bang, Sonny Fortune, Frank Wess, Louis Hayes, Buster Williams, George Mraz, Idris Muhammad, and Lester Bowie, to name just a few, as well as recording over 50 albums under his own name.

"Talking with Hicks' widow, flutist Elise Wood, I learned that, under her care, compilation and tribute albums will be appearing in due course, including a live set from Birdland. Meanwhile, High Note has issued Hicks' last recording, which was made with one of his working groups, and if it had to be his memorial album it would work very well, as it includes all the main facets of his artistry: solo piano, piano trio, and a larger ensemble.

"Like most pianists, John liked to work alone, or with a trio, but also enjoyed writing arrangements for a quintet or sextet, often, like the finest jazz composers, tailoring parts to specific musicians. In the past, these have included artists of the caliber of Bobby Watson and Vincent Herring; more recently he has been working with Javon Jackson and Elise, who has been a constant over several albums, adding her flute and alto flute where appropriate. Here the selections for solo piano include "One Peaceful Moment," "The Things We Did Last Summer," and "Sunset Blues," for trio "Once I Loved," while "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry" and "Hold It Down" add Jackson's tenor to create a quartet setting. The remaining tracks add Wood's flute to the ensemble sound, with her alto featured on "I Remember Clifford," and Ray Mantilla adds his percussion skills on several selections that remind us of Hicks' love of Latin music: "Sweet Love Of Mine," "Once I Loved," "Mambo Influenciado," and "Peanut Butter Two."

"This is first-class playing from everyone, with a great range of feeling, from Hicks' lovely rubato ballad treatments to some crackling, straight-ahead, hard swing, to the infectious Latin segments. Jackson is a fine player who has listened to early Coltrane as well as to Joe Henderson. Lundy and Jones do the business throughout, and Hicks does what he does best--not only shining as a soloist but also, as an accompanist, making everyone else sound good."

Peter Westbrook, JazzReview.com

"Powerful and driving are two adjectives often used to describe jazz pianists John Hicks playing style...Hicks has shown over the course of his more than 30 year career that he can do it all."
Brad Smith, Union News, Springfield, MA

"Nobody sounds like John Hicks. When you hear a piano player, you know it's John Hicks, no doubt about it. You hear his way of phrasing, his way of attacking the piano. The energy is always there, no matter what kind of condition the piano is in. He's got thinks he's gonna do to let you know 'This is John Hicks here."
Betty Carter, Downbeat

"Luminous co-produced by Hicks and flutist Elise Wood is a compelling statement of Hicks' artistry as it documents a decade long musical partnership without trendy formatting."
Bill Shoemaker, Downbeat

"Time was - and not all that long ago - when pianist John Hicks was sorely unrecorded. But no more. Nowadays his albums tend to arrive in bunches - some old, some new, all worth hearing."
Mike Joyce, Washington Post

"Trio Plus Strings" easily stands out as one of Hicks' finest recordings--for not only do the arrangements amply illustrate his skills as a composer, improvisor and interpreter, they consistently flatter his touch with an elegant blend of flute and strings. Naima's Love Song which fully integrates the sound of the trio, flute and string section creates a lovely weave of colors and texture and heartfelt emotion"
Mike Joyce, Washington, DC

Wood overwhelmed the audience with her rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Starcrossed Lovers" - and Watson's extraordinary rendering of the classic "Soul Eyes" provided one of the great performance highlights of the festival. (John Hicks Quintet--Sunnyside Jazz Festival--Tarrytown, NY)
Clarence Atkins, Amsterdam News

John Hicks is one of the real heavy-hitters of the keyboard, ranking right up there with with the likes of Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller et al. Here, John has put together a unique program of music by Billy Strayhorn, sometimes known as "Duke Ellington's alter-efo", John's imagination and technique are given free reign in this trio setting and he lavishes insight on tunes both familiar and seldom-heard."
Highnote Records

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