Jazz Reviews : Scott Hamilton Quintet: Where’s the Fire?

Some 14 years have passed since Scott Hamilton came to prominence as a tenor saxophonist who, unlike the young musicians of the day, was inspired not by John Coltrane but by the early pioneers such as Ben Webster.

At Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena on Thursday, Hamilton, now 36 and no longer a boy wonder, displayed the same values. His sound is warm, he swings, his harmonic ideas are commendable, yet the passion of a Webster or the explosive fire of an Illinois Jacquet just isn’t there. Hamilton was like a sculptor building small statues with borrowed clay.

Moreover, the 1990s are bringing to the forefront such younger musicians as Branford Marsalis who are adept not just in one style but in almost any, including that which Hamilton emulated.

What was missing Thursday was a group of outstanding artists to inspire him to fresher expressive heights. His sidemen, who have all been with him for many years--Chris Flory on guitar, John Bunch on piano, Phil Flanigan on bass and Chuck Riggs on drums--do not furnish that inspiration.


Many of the songs followed a predictable pattern: theme and ad-lib variations by Hamilton, guitar solo, piano solo, bass solo, four-bar exchanges between Hamilton and Riggs, return to the theme. At times the audience seemed more excited by these routines than the musicians themselves.

It’s too bad that Hamilton’s early potential has not been realized. If he had another horn player--a trumpet or a second saxophone to stimulate him and provide more of a sense of organization, as was the case on some of his best recordings--his in-person group might gain some of the enthusiasm it now lacks.