Herbie Nichols ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

herbie-nicholsBest know for his innovative sole recording for Blue Note, Herbie Nichols belongs to that category of jazz musicians who died tragically young, in his case twenty-four years of age in 1963. However, from the the mid-1950s onwards Nichols recorded some fine groundbreaking music that went beyond the prevailing be-bop mode and verged on a freer form. The official Blue Note release, ‘Herbie Nichols Trio’, dates from 1955 and 1956, is included within and augmented by two other May 1955 sessions from the late and great Rudy Van Gelder (RVG) recording studio, as well as a separate New York session from 1957. What makes these sides worthwhile is the omnipresent trio line-up at RVGs with Al McKibbon bass and Art Blakey on drums, with Max Roach deputising for Blakey on four numbers. Nichols’ compositional skills are amply demonstrated on, ‘Step tempest’, ‘Wildflower’ and ‘2300 Skidoo’, and he was a highly original composer who but for the competition from Thelonius Monk and Bud Powell might have been more highly regarded. What does come as a surprise overall is what a fine interpreter of ballads Herbie Nichols was and the later recording, featuring George Duvivier on bass and Dannie Richmond on drum showcases Nichols’ ability to frame a standard in his eyes, as on ‘All the way’, or ‘Too close for comfort’. Of interest equally is that Nichols was on extremely good terms with other musicians and singers alike. The one standard ballad on the official Blue Note recording was co-written between Nichols and Billie Holiday, while during the 1950s Nichols was influenced by and came into contact with fellow pianist Mary Lou Williams. While not a fully comprehensive vision of Herbie Nichols, this double CD provides even the jazz piano aficionado with a more in-depth overview of the pianist in a period of intense creativity and that makes this CD a necessary purchase, especially if you do not own in any format a copy of ‘Herbie Nichols Trio’, which is indispensable.

Generous timing as ever with Avid releases, with near on seventy minutes.

Tim Stenhouse