This CD is currently out of print.
Trio + Strings
Surely John Hicks is known to all as a top-notch pianist, and a man who is so accomplished as an accompanist himself will select superior musicians like Steve Novosel and Ronnie Burrage (Steve Williams drums on one track) as his rhythm ream as a matter of course. Strings are not everyone's bag, but Larry Willis' arrangements are unobtrusive and quite interesting on their own.
Hicks the writer is showcased in a way that deserves attention. His writing evokes Strayhorn (whose "Passion Flower" is the one non-original), Evans, Ibrahim, and perhaps even Elmo Hope whom I take to be the subject of "Peace for E.H." This is mature, masterful composing and playing.
The Washington Post:
Pianist John Hicks may be one of the unsung giants in jazz, but he certainly isn't under-recorded. The discography he's compiled over the years, as both a leader and a sideman, is extensive, and it no doubt will always serve as a source of great inspiration for aspiring pianists and composers.
Nevertheless, Trio Plus Strings easily stands out as one of Hicks's finest recordings, for not only do the arrangements amply illustrate his skills as a composer, improviser and interpreter, they consistently flatter his touch with an elegant blend of flute and strings. To hear Hicks perform his own ballad No More Regrets or Billy Strayhorn's Passion Flower alone, as he does here with characteristic soulfulness and lyricism, is enough to convince anyone that he should be left to his own splendid devices. And certainly when he collaborates with his trio mates bassist Steve Novosel and alternating drummers Ronnie Burrage and Steve Williams, nothing appears to be missing from the mix.
Arranger Larry Willis, however, proves that he has the ear and imagination to create a warmly affecting musical environment for the pianist, using Elise Woods' flute and the Rick Schmidt String Quartet to shade, brighten and enhance Hicks' performances. Never intrusive or unduly busy, Willis's deft handiwork is perhaps best revealed on Hicks's well-known ballad, Naima's Love Song, which fully integrates the sound of the trio, flute and string section, creating a lovely weave of colors and texture and heartfelt emotion.
September 18, 1998
On his second CD for the Mapleshade label, John Hicks, Trio Plus Strings (05532). Hicks continues to demonstrate his wide-ranging talents in ways that will delight his many fans. In addition to solo, duo, trio and quartet performances, the recording features three tracks with a string quartet, featuring arrangements by fellow piano master Larry Willis. With the exception of a solo piano version of Billy Strayhorn's Passion Flower the compositions are all penned by Hicks. As one would expect from a musician of Hicks' stature, the melodies are strong and distinctive, evoking a variety of moods. On four tracks, the alto flute of Elise Wood, who has been collaborating with Hicks on various projects for over fifteen years, is featured. The bassist is the underrated Steve Novosel, a mainstay in the bands of Al Grey and David "Fathead" Newman, whose beautiful intonation and well-chosen lines makes a major contribution to the disc. Ronnie Burrage's lively, polyrhythmic drumming invigorates the cuts with a string quartet, and Steve Williams, the regular stickman with Shirley Horn's trio, enlivens the trio tracks.
The disc's opening track, the lovely "Heart to Heart", features two gentle, unaccompanied solos by Hicks, the rich, full tone of Wood's flute on the song's melody, and the sonorous yet understated sound of the string quartet. "Minor Collaboration", a medium-fast blues written by Hicks during a break in the recording session, includes a hard-swinging, assertive solo by the pianist, as well as turns by Novosel and Williams. "After the Dawn" is a delightful, medium tempo tune, in which Hicks and Novosel perfectly complement each other.