Birnbaum's interpretation of Herbie Nichols's "House Party Starting" reveals a pianist with a sure touch, malleable phrasing, and an elaborate melodic conception. His notes are clearly struck and precisely enunciated, his improvisations devoid of clutter. Rhythmically, he's not inclined to stray too far, distinctly articulating the pulse even as he subtly manipulates it, moving ahead of and behind the beat in creative ways. Harmonically, Birnbaum is rather tied to the chords and their accompanying scales. He doesn't go "out," but builds moderately ingenious melodies staying mostly within the given framework. His bandmates serve him well, providing idiomatically correct accompaniment that perfectly mimics a mid-'50s bop rhythm section.
Based on this performance, one suspects that Birnbaum isn't the kind of pianist to labor in obscurity like Nichols (or Monk, before his success in middle age). Birnbaum is more in the mold of a Jacky Terrasson— a gifted technician and aesthetician who's synthesized his influences and contrived a fairly distinctive and definitely attractive middle-of-the-road acoustic jazz style.
October 08, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: herbie nichols covers
"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.
August 05, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: herbie nichols covers
Lacy's and Waldron's long association includes an album each of compositions by Monk (1958's Reflections) and Ellington/Strayhorn (1985's Sempre Amore) before this more diverse program that included Nichols's "House Party Starting." Lacy essays the theme almost mournfully, sounding like a more polished Pee Wee Russell. Aided by Waldron's sparse but effective backing, Lacy's deliberate pace brings to the fore all the graceful, idiosyncratic beauty of Nichols's melodic line. Lacy's solo takes on more urgency, his tone becoming sharper, and his attack venturing into the upper register and including occasional overtones, in addition to bluesy inflections that warm the room. Waldron responds with a solo that features resonant left-hand figures contrasting with harmonically rich block chords from his right. Lacy ends the piece with another finely crafted delineation of the theme. Party over.
July 15, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: herbie nichols covers
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