As we celebrate new releases from the respective members of the "Jazz Composers Collective" (see AAJ Nov'99 reviews) along with Allen Huotari's insightful interviews with constituents of the Jazz Composers Collective, we commence the festivities with the new release by "The Herbie Nichols Project", titled Dr. Cyclops' Dream
Featuring charter members of the Jazz Composers Collective, the "Herbie Nichols Project" is an ever-evolving project devoted to interpreting and more importantly breathing new life into the poignant compositional legacy left behind by this truly adventurous pianist/composer. Recognition and fascination with Nichol's short-lived body of work has gained momentum over the years, no doubt heightened by the band who bare his name. Here, the band continue their path first launched on their 1997 debut, "Love Is Proximity". From Allen Huotari's Nov' 99 interview, the Jazz Composers Collective state the following: "In the current ensemble Nichols' music lives with a fresh angle. By realizing the music for horns, the ensemble guides the music in new directions"...and as Ben Allison states from the same interview ..."Many of the tunes on the CD were previously unrecorded. We found a bunch of lead sheets at the Library of Congress, most were bare sketches with no indications as to tempo or dynamics". The opener, "Bartok", is one of these pieces where the band brainstorm the dynamics and tempo while devising a suitable or appropriate arrangement which perhaps presupposes Nichols intentions as the band convey a modernistic approach. Here, the band offer a melodic yet peppery and lush horn arrangement offset by a fervent mid-tempo swing. Pianist Frank Kimbrough restates the melody through various intervals, harmonies and swirling clusters as the affable theme resurfaces atop shifting tempos, enhanced by drummer Tim Horner's hybrid Latin/Jazz pulse. The title track, "Dr Cyclops Dream" features thoughtful well-stated tenor saxophone work in conjunction with a somewhat pensive horn arrangement which may infer - wonderment or fascination. On this piece, lucid imagery shrouds the imagination via brassy yet ever so subtle choruses from the brass section as they implement unison lines and crafty tremolo techniques. Ted Nash' sprightly and joyous alto flute performance rides the wave of a bouncy, vivacious arrangement on "Valse Macabre". Trumpeter Ron Horton dishes out some tasty "wah-wah" style licks while utilizing his mute on the hip and congenial "I've Got Those Classic Blues" which is a 12 bar blues performed as a duet with drummer Tim Horner. "The BeBop Waltz" was a Nichols composition originally recorded by the great pianist Mary Lou Williams along with saxophone legend, Don Byas. Here, pianist Frank Kimbrough and trumpeter Ron Horton render a lovely and passionately executed duet while tenor saxophonist Ted Nash blows furiously over hard Bop-ish lines on "Riff Primitiff" as the band enter the red zone with an arrangement that - jumps right at you. A sense of dynamics prevails on all accounts as the rhythm section of Allison and Horner put things in full gear, which serves as a foundation for abundant soloing amid darting choruses from the horn section leading to an explosive finale.
Dr Cyclops' Dream is an impressive work while we could safely imagine that Herbie Nichols would be proud of these men if he were alive today. "The Herbie Nichols Project" are -in tune- with Nichols' often amazing yet under recognized repertoire as they seemingly possess the patent on Nichols' contributions to jazz. Dr Cyclops Dream' is not a tribute recording by any means. As a band,"The Herbie Nichols Project" capture the proverbial spirit while putting an indelible stamp to the music of a man who during his tenure in jazz was often overshadowed by others, which to this day remains somewhat of a mysterious or forlorn notion. Here, the New York-based Jazz Composers Collective take the music of Herbie Nichols into the twenty-first century as his music lives on through the eyes and ears of this estimable bunch! Highly recommended!!
Frank Kimbrough; Piano: Ben Allison; Double Bass: Ron Horton; Trumpet, Flugelhorn: Ted Nash; Tenor Saxophone, Alto Flute & Bass Clarinet: Michael Blake; Tenor & Soprano Saxophone: Tim Horner; Drums.