The Herbie Nichols Project: Dr. Cyclops' Dream


Dr. Cyclops' Dream


The Herbie Nichols Project


Dr. Cyclops' Dream (Soul Note 121333-2)

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Ben Allison (bass), Frank Kimbrough (piano),

Ron Horton (trumpet), Ted Nash (bass clarinet), Michael Blake (tenor sax), Tim Horner (drums)


Composed by Herbie Nichols


Recorded: Paramus, NJ, February 18-19, 1999


Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

If not for such musicians as Roswell Rudd, Misha Mengelberg, Buell Neidlinger, Geri Allen and Steve Lacy, Herbie Nichols's music might be just as obscure today as it was when he died in 1963. Regrettably, Nichols was able to record his compositions only in a trio format, never having the opportunity to orchestrate his intricate writing for a larger group as he so desired. The Herbie Nichols Project was formed in 1994 to both expose Nichols's music to a wider audience and to present it in original arrangements for an ensemble that included horns. In addition, on their three CDs (Love Is Proximity and Strange City are the others), they have unveiled not only previously unrecorded Nichols tunes, but have even developed newly discovered lead sheets that lacked Nichols's directions as to tempo or dynamics.

"Dr. Cyclops' Dream" began life as one of those lead sheets, and the group's co-founders, Ben Allison and Frank Kimbrough, inventively arranged it into a superlative work of art. Bass clarinet, bass, and then trumpet merge in the eerie extended opening interlude, where Nash and Allison sustain a vamp while Horton plays sparse legato variations of it. Horton finally resolves the built-up tension with a tone-rowed motif, before giving way to Blake's thoughtful tenor, as his lithe tone, appealing colorations, vocalized inflections and surprising note choices coalesce into an enthralling solo. Horton returns to play the ethereal melodic content from the opening section, and Blake repeats it in part before the trumpeter rejoins him for a dissonant, climactic held note.

Dr. Cyclops was a mediocre 1940 horror film about a mad scientist with failing vision who shrinks men to the size of mice. The Herbie Nichols Project, on the other hand, has the great insight to enlarge upon Nichols's artistry and bring it into full focus. That, no doubt, was Herbie Nichols's dream.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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