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Fay Victor / Herbie Nichols SUNG: Life Is Funny That Way

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Fay Victor / Herbie Nichols SUNG: Life Is Funny That Way
The jazz world overlooked pianist and composer Herbie Nichols in his lifetime, but musicians such as Roswell Rudd, Misha Mengelberg, and Ted Nash have tried to keep his music in circulation over the years in various projects. Vocalist Fay Victor has been entranced by his music for a long time, and in 2013, she put together a group, Herbie Nichols SUNG, to perform his tunes. This is that group's first recording together and it is excellent.

In most cases here, Victor has written her own lyrics for Nichols' tunes and given them new titles. Some of the arrangements come off loosely swinging with the musicians jangling over the bumpy surfaces of Nichols' melodies in a way that reflects the influence of dance in his music. An adventurous dance company could work out some pretty energetic routines for these treatments. The band, Michael Attias on saxophone, Anthony Coleman on piano, Ratzo Harris on bass and Tom Rainey on drums, moves in quirky ways that complement the broad, elastic sound of Victor's voice as she goes from loud, broad moans to high-pitched jabbering and back, sounding like a cross between Betty Carter and Ellen Christi.

When the music hits a groove, it really comes alive. The leader's full voice rides the twisting rhythm of "Life Is Funny That Way" into the stratosphere as she scats over Coleman's brittle Thelonious Monk-like chords and Attias' squawking alto sax. Alto and voice have a furious race on "The Bassist" after an extended Tom Rainey solo and "Tonight" is a swaggering dance shuffle with Attias jubilantly serenading on baritone sax. "Shuffle Montgomery" is a clanking soft-shoe feature for voice and baritone with Anthony Coleman playing the kind of eccentric piano groove associated with Nichols fan Misha Mengelberg. The wildest track is "Non-Fraternization Clause" where the entire band jumps, sparks, and swoops before Victor leans into her vocal, going up and down with Attias' alto in dizzying fashion, and Coleman lightly creeps through some angular blues moves.

Some of the pieces here have much darker tones. On "Sinners! All of Us!" Victor's stream-of-consciousness blues scat pulls the band along to a slow march cadence while "The Culprit Is You" is a dramatic, minor key piano-voice duet after the fashion of Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake. "Descent Into Madness" is a sinister weave of piano, voice, and alto that conjures up visions of despair and eerieness. The one tune Victor did not write lyrics for is "Lady Sings The Blues." That is performed with the original lyrics written by the woman who first sang the song, Billie Holiday. The track is treated as an art song with Coleman's piano carefully brooding as Victor's voice opens into a powerful siren wail over bowed bass and tense percussion.

There are several fine Herbie Nichols tributes around, but this one has a unique soul and earthiness created by Fay Victor's otherworldly singing and the adventurous spirit of her band. This is a superb album, one of the most delightful releases of the year so far.

Track Listing

Life Is Funny That Way; The Bassist; Bright Butterfly; Sinners, All of Us!; The Culprit Is You; Shuffle Montgomery; Tonight; Lady Sings The Blues; Twelve Bars; Descent Into Madness; Non-Fraternization Clause.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Life Is Funny That Way | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Tao Forms


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