Chicago-based pianist Joan Hickey and her quintet sound as if they're trying to sneak up on you with some warbling horn work over a steady bass line as the opening Hickey original, "Herbris," spins to life. Then they find the groove that leads into a light-stepping piano solo; and over the course of eight-plus minutes they keep a mainstream feeling without resorting to the formulaic, later catching fire with saxophonist John Wojciechowski's hot solo.
It's a helluva start; and on this set of trio, quartet and quintet offerings -- the rhythm section of Hickey, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Dana Hall remains the same -- the energy level never wanes.
Hickey's piano style goes from dense, percussive and explosively gregarious to delicate and spare, angular and quirky. Her trio take on Bud Powell's "The Fruit" captures the true Powell spirit: the sparkle and bounce, the off-kilter ebullience. Gershwin's "The Man I Love," with Wojciechowski on sax, is a highlight, providing an adventurous, sweet-and-sour exploration of the familiar melody, taking it apart, putting it back together again.
The trio gives the classic "My Funny Valentine" an oddly appealing reggae rhythm. The group also covers Joe Zawinul's "Midnight Mood"; Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," slightly warped, but still recognizable; and the Peter Green-penned Carlos Santana vehicle, "Black Magic Woman." The set also includes three Hickey originals: the previously mentioned "Herbris," the pretty and introspective "Francesca," and the hard-bopping "Contemporaneous."
An inspired set of mainstream sounds.