The music of pianist and composer Herbie Nichols (1919-1963) has experienced something a renaissance in recent years. This is, in no small part, due to the tireless work of trombonist Roswell Rudd, who has recorded his compositions and published the book Herbie Nichols: The Unpublished Works (2000), containing 27 of Nichols' compositions.
Thus, thanks to the work of Rudd, drummer Jimmy Bennington and his trio have been able to record a tribute album to Nichols: Another Friend: The Music of Herbie Nichols, consisting almost entirely of forgotten compositions by this neglected master. This also means that one won't find any of the tunes that Nichols recorded on the Blue Note and Bethlehem labels between May 1955 and November 1957, with the sole exception of "House Party Starting," which can be heard on the box set The Complete Studio Master Takes (Lonehill, 2005).
With the exception of "House Party Starting" there's no way to know how Nichols would have tackled the material himself. What's remains, of course, is an interpretation. Nevertheless, comparing the two versions of "House Party Starting" shows how the trio is both faithful towards Nichols while, at the same time, taking the music into new, dark corners.
While both Bennington and bassist Michael Bisio do a solid job, the spotlight naturally falls on pianist David Haney, who superbly interprets Nichols' idiosyncratic style. Haney brings out the Monkish knottiness of Nichols' playing while also paying wide attention to the pianist's patented use of poetic space. It's a very modern Nichols heard in Haney's version, but also, paradoxically, an old-fashioned stylist where titles like "Old 52nd St. Rag" and "Twelve Bars" speak very clearly of where the music came from.
The peculiar mixture of something very old and dusty and still freshly modern is repeated not only in the playing but also in the recording. The whole album was taped as a radio-session and, while there are no crackles and pops to disturb the listening experience, it's not a hi-fi recording; instead the album has the patina of an old 78.
Nostalgic yet modern, outdated and still way of ahead of his time. The paradox of Nichols' artistry continues to live and this fine homage is a fitting introduction to his singular musical world.
Personnel: Jimmy Bennington: drums; Michael Bisio: bass; David Haney: piano.