December 10, 1999
The Oregonian
Portland, Oregon
By Lynn Darroch
Special to the Oregonian

It took a while, but Robert Hicks finally made his Hollywood dream come true. “Textures In Hi-Fi” is a nearly flawless re-creation of the West Coast modernist big band era, as sharp and evocative as Wynton Marsalis’ re-creation of the Ellington canon.

The Portland-based, Portland-born singer and pianist, now in his 30s, grew up on the big band music and West Coast jazz of the ‘40s & ‘50s, even though he had to dig old 78s out of his grandmother’s attic to hear it. In L.A., where he played and sang for seven years in swanky hotels and restaurants, he met one of his childhood idols, composer and arranger Pete Rugolo, who conducts the 17-piece big-band on this CD.

For Hicks, singing Rugolo’s music is the culmination of a process that began when he was 10 years old and purchased a used 78 titled “Rika Jika Jack”, which Rugolo had writted for vocalist June Christy in 1946. Hicks’ version here is a cool mix of call and response blues with swinging riffs that features his supple tenor in both scat and conventional vocal choruses.

Rugolo came to prominence with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He produced the legendary “Birth Of The Cool” sessions. He arranged for Nat Cole and wrote scores for “The Fugitive” and other classic TV dramas.

With his collaboration, Hicks has captures the spirit of the era: the material (old and new arrangements and compositions by Rugolo), the musicians (some of whom were present for the original recording sessions), the cover art, the attitude. All the pieces are here.

Hicks sings with beautiful intonation and clean articulation. On “Interlude”, a lush ballad with strings and impressionistic, modernistic chords, his pause between the lines “how bittersweet” and “how sublime” measures perfectly the emotional distance between those poles.

His lyrics for “Bongo Fever” demonstrate his ability to capture Hollywood’s take on the exotic without resorting to camp or parody. “Sensual, erotic and more than hypnotic, the rhythm will not leave your mind,” he sings. The brass section shimmers, the reeds wail, and the bongos rap out their incantation. Suddenly you’re there, dashing through Hollywood nights of mystery and passion.

Grade: A