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Herbie Nichols: Herbie Nichols Trio – Blue Note 1519

Marc Davis By

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Enter the album name hereOK, now I'm cheating. At least it feels that way.

The next CD on my quixotic Blue Note odyssey is Herbie Nichols Trio, a 1955-56 trio record by the criminally under-appreciated pianist. Great—I'm looking forward to it! I know almost nothing about Herbie Nichols, except that he was an overlooked talent who was often compared to the quirky Thelonious Monk. How can that be bad?

Except... you can't really buy this CD. Not easily. And not cheaply.

Go to Amazon and look it up. The first thing you see is that the album is available on MP3 for just $6.99. OK, that's good, but a last resort. I'd rather have the tangible CD for my collection. Then you see the two-CD set Complete Studio Master Takes—a Spanish import selling for $40 to $50. Um, no. Not yet. Maybe never.

There's also Herbie Nichols Trio, Volume 2, which some nut is selling for $2,339.99 new. That has to be a typo. Used copies start at $28. Maybe when we get to Volume 2. But not yet. And even so, that's kind of expensive.

How about eBay? There's a $13 used copy—shipping from Japan! I'm not sure I trust that. A $15 copy shipping from South Korea. A $50 copy shipping from Japan, and two $60 copies shipping from Canada and Japan. Uh, no.

So MP3 it is. Which is great, if all I want is the music. But I don't. I want the CD.

Sigh. Eventually. Meanwhile, the MP3s will do, says the cheater.

Oh yeah, and then there's the music.

It's great, just as I'd hoped. The critics are right. Herbie Nichols is just slightly less off-kilter than Monk, but they're in the same ballpark. Clearly, he can play a tune straight, but doesn't choose to. Each tune is full of odd pauses and note choices and rhythms that are a tiny bit off—intentionally.

It's enough to make every song interesting. It's cerebral bop, but not quite as extreme as a typical Monk tune. Max Roach on drums and either Al McKibbon or Teddy Kotick on bass provide the beat, but stay pretty much in the background. This is almost entirely Nichols' show.

The biggest surprise is "Lady Sings the Blues." Yes, that song. Nichols co- wrote it with Billie Holiday, and while it's Lady Day's version you remember, slow and soulful, Nichols' version has a life of its own. The melody is recognizable, but the pace is faster and the improvisation has a whole different, boppish feel.

Actually, every tune on this wonderful CD is full of unexpected turns. This is piano trio music with a twist. It's a great find—even in MP3 format.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Rare as a standalone CD, only available as an import; Sold as MP3 files on Amazon

Cost: $7 in MP3 format

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