Review Summary: For Mods Only.NOTE
: This review is for the version with bonus tracks. Tracks 8, 9, 10, and 11 are not included in the original pressing but are essential nevertheless. For said reason, the aforementioned tracks are considered as part of the album on this write-up.
It's imperative to point out Chico Hamilton’s The Dealer
is a rather particular listen. The album’s first half makes it seem like an upbeat, feel good representation of jazz. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it is soul-filled music that feels revitalizing at the very least. Melodies are simple but effective, and elements of typical jazz are used thoroughly. The casual nature of the music doesn't hold back the musician’s merit. Rather, it sounds like they are very experienced and only paying homage to more traditional forms of jazz. This is well showcased on “A Trip;” a cool and sleek feeling tune demanding of an attentive listen.
However, the album gradually descends into an off kilter aura. As if on a downward sanity spiral, the band is acquiring some kind of craze. The most glaring example of said craze is on the stunning Thoughts, where a bizarre, experimental approach is used to tremendous effect. This marks a definite tonal change on the album. From then on, it becomes even more erratic. This is most obvious on “Jim-Jinnie,” a borderline avant garde track that would easily fit into Miles Davis’ experimental era. The track is so absurdly mad that it even has someone shouting their lungs out in the background. Strangely enough, the album soon goes back to more traditional feeling jazz. However, the charming thing about the end of the second half is that it feels eerily calm. Because of the overwhelming tension created in the middle of the album, it is simply impossible to look at The Dealer
traditionally again. Said tension is also maintained by underlying dissonance employed on tracks like El Toro that feel like they could burst at any moment. This gives a new spin on the music, as it now feels like a controlled schizophrenic ballad rather than a simple jazz tune.
It is only possible to fully appreciate this record when looking at it as a whole experience. Chico Hamilton managed to create a monster of an album, an effort steeped with undeniable uneasiness. Ironically, that makes it all the more fantastic, as it feels like the record is a living and aware being that bears a hidden mania in its nature. Such is an odd way to phrase music, but it unequivocally gives the album the soul it deserves.