It was in his native Los Angeles that the drummer and composer Chico Hamilton launched his first jazz group, an innovative unit featuring cello and flute.

Absent from the Southland since 1978, he returned Friday, fronting a quartet of young musicians at Catalina's. Because of his reputation as a seeker of fresh talents, possibly more was expected of him than transpired.

The only side man of more than passing interest was Cary De Nigres, the guitarist. Though he follows in the wake of such Hamilton guitarists as Jim Hall, Gabor Szabo and Larry Coryell, De Nigres essentially is a product of the Lee Ritenour-Larry Carlton school, owing less to tradition than to current trends. His suspenseful closing cadenza on "Angel Eyes" compensated for what preceded it, a comedy slow motion routine in which Hamilton lifted his drumsticks and waited forever before hitting anything.

Hamilton's performance was an odd mixture of showmanship, admirable Jo Jones swing and intrusive overstatement. His solo with mallets in an original waltz displayed the finesse for which he has long been respected, but too often he was hobbled by silly devices. During one tune the quartet played a single note, staccato, then waited a few seconds and hit one again; this went on beyond the point of endurance.

Eric Person, on soprano and alto sax, fell short on intonation, tone quality and creativity. Given Hamilton's track record--his prior reed men included Buddy Collette, Paul Horn, Eric Dolphy and Charles Lloyd, among others--this was a major disappointment.

Reggie Washington's cavernous electric bass acted out its role effectively on one of the more rock-oriented originals.

Hamilton needs a personal group sound and an original artistic direction such as he had in earlier years, with exceptional musicians to express these concepts. Aside from De Nigres, none of these assets could be observed in this over-gimmicky group.

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