I can’t go on about how great the late pianist/composer Sonny Clark was/is - to be honest, I’m only familiar with his accomplishments as a sideman on some Blue Note sessions. I can only comment on the disc at hand, the Sonny Clark tribute helmed by the great, currently living pianist John Hicks. This isn’t the "usual" trib-treatment of all tunes by or associated with The Honoree - here, half the selections are composed by Clark, the rest are Hicks originals inspired by Clark’s tunes. Hicks has an untarnished rep for being an on-the-spot, extremely versatile and unfailingly lyrical piano whiz, and this set backs that up 100%.
Though Mr. Clark was one of the Blue Note/hard bop-era’s definitive pianists, this album is NOT a Return To Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, an attempt to rekindle/replicate the classic Blue Note sound of 1955-64. This is music of the here and now - bright, snappy, straightforward, swinging stuff that encapsulates the affable, mainstream bebop ethos in the manner of piano aces George Shearing, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard. There are 13 tunes, so there’s a wonderful sense of fit ‘n’ trim economy at work here: everyone says what they need to - no blather, excess or gratuitous shows of flashy technique - and moves on. Cecil Brooks III (drums, also the producer) and Dwayne Dolphin (bass) are both subtle and vigorous - never startling, but real swell and cool nonetheless. Engineer David Baker makes for a crisp, lively, honest recorded sound. Piano people will likely go mad for this platter!