JAZZ COMPOSERS COLLECTIVE - the herbie nichols project at THE STONE, nyc, JAN 2

  • photography by ©Clara Pereira / text by Filipe Freitas

From January 2 through 5, The Sone at The New School accommodated a very special residency that aimed to celebrate the centenary anniversary of pianist Herbie Nichols. The program was curated by avant-garde singer Fay Victor, who has summoned Jazz Composers Collective for the very first show. Founded in 1992 by bassist Ben Allison, the vibrant quintet had pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Michael Sarin complementing the rhythm section, while tenorist Michael Blake and trumpeter Ron Horton formed the habitual two-horn frontline.

As expected, the group played Herbie Nichols all the way through, kicking in with “The Happenings”, a piece that was never recorded by its author, but is perfectly emblematic of his value as a composer. The music strides and struts confidently with a magnificent arrangement that conveys a triumphant feeling from start to finish. All members improvised with the exception of the drummer.

Three pieces were retrieved from the 1996 album Love Is Proximity, namely, “Spinning Song”, whose gentle groove is kept even when the shape of the rhythm is altered; the uptempo “Trio”, which swings fiercely with lively solos from saxophone and trumpet with just bass and drums underneath; and “Love, Gloom, Cash, Love”, a 3/4 excursion into bliss with radiant improvisations by Kimbrough and Allison.

Wildflower” exhibited beautifully controlled chordal dissonance in the piano intro, being scaled up through swift horn lines, sometimes coinciding, sometimes in tandem. Like this latter piece, the blues-based “Riff Primitif” is also a product of Nichols’ Blue Note years. Its nature demanded less concentration from the musicians than the tune that preceded it: a consolidation of two compositions in the same key: “Blue Chopsticks” and “Crisp Day”. The result was a rousing free bop feast packed with exuberant overlapping ideas.

There was still time for a couple of unpublished tunes, which were given to the collective by Nichols’ nephew. One of them, “Tell The Birds I Say Hello”, boasts a catchy riff that, reiterated by Kimbrough during his solo, lingers in the ear for some time. The other one closed out the show with a punchy verve.

This was an enjoyable concert, which, in addition to the group’s rapport and musical excellence, also served to let us know more about Herbie Nichols’ genius.