Pianist and composer Herbie Nichols (January 3, 1919 - April 12, 1963) is perhaps most famous for being virtually unknown in his lifetime, and remaining so to a great extent even to this day. His music is usually linked stylistically with Thelonious Monk, whom he knew and admired, because of its wry humor, which hides surprising harmonies and construction belying a deep intelligence showing more of a classical influence. There are a number of performers actively bringing his music to audiences, including pianist Frank Kimbrough's Herbie Nichols Project and trombonist Roswell Rudd.
Well, add Swiss saxophonist Jurg Bucher to this list. The Music of Herbie Nichols is a true homage to the central essence of Nichols' music. The arrangements, all by Bucher and pianist Oliver Kuster, achieve the band's dual goals, allowing Nichols' soul to come through while also opening things up for more improvisation.
Bucher is well known on the Swiss jazz scene, appearing on bassist Daniel Schlaeppi's fine Dimensions Live (Catwalk, 2007). Hisand by extension, the band'senthusiasm for this music is contagious and makes for enjoyable listening that pleases both body and mind.
What comes through loud and clear is the modernity of Nichols' musical thought, allowing Bucher's takes to keep anachronism at bayNichols is clearly there, but filtered through Bucher and Kuster. The band has a surety of feel and swings effortlessly, supported by bassist Fabian Gisler and drummer Lukas Bitterlin.
As on Dimensions Live, Bucher is very smooth and secure with a lot to say, either as comments on a tune's primary melody or when improvising. Kuster is a standout as he gets inside Nichols' pianism while creating and maintaining his own identity.
Even Nichols' most famous tune, "Lady Sings the Blues," got that way through the efforts of another, in this case Billy Holiday, who wrote the words. Here it is introduced by "Wildflower," which segues directly to it.
While The Music of Herbie Nichols is a welcome addition to the growing collection of projects intended to expose the late pianist/composer's music to today's audience, Bucher and the band have made a record which is very fine in its own right.
Track Listing: Infatuation Eyes; Shuffle Montgomery; Terpsichore; Double Exposure; Wildflower; Lady Sings The Blues; Love, Gloom, Cash, Love; 2300 Skidoo; 'Orse at Safari.
Personnel: Jurg Bucher: tenor and soprano saxophone; Oliver Kuster: piano; Fabian Gisler: bass; Lukas Bitterlin: drums.