By Jerome Wilson
Robert Hicks is another Californian who works an older vein of jazz singing and comes with a heavy recommendation. His liner notes were written by Pete Rugolo, the legendary Stan Kenton arranger. You quickly hear why Rugolo likes him so much. Hicks sings in a high, driving tenor voice reminiscent of Kenton’s Four Freshmen vocal group. He’s obviously hip to the resemblance himself because through overdubs he becomes a seven-man vocal group on the Dizzy Gillespie-Chico O’Farrell Afro-Cuban piece, “Carambola”.
Other than that it’s mostly straight-ahead vocalizing in a voice that’s a cross between Johnny Ray, Chet Baker and the young Mel Torme. Hicks has a buttery sound and enough rhythmic invention to breathe new life into a lot of old songs that had been worked to death by the campy flailings of cabaret singers. He consistently underplays in his vocals, either playing the sweet-singing romantic or scatting wildly with fine instrumental support including his own competent piano and vibes.
There are also some surprises like the aforementioned
“Carambola” where Hicks impersonates an entire trumpet section,
the old Hollywood cowboy song, “Along The Navajo Trail”, done
prettily with a simple guitar and harmonica accompaniment and a ravishingly
beautiful “Early Autumn” sung with such feeling and precision
Stan Getz himself might have appreciated it. Hicks is a real talent who
far outstrips those Feinstein and Connick people he superficially resembles.