Gene Seymour’s Top Ten Jazz Albums for 2023

There’s been so much wonderful music out and about this year that I could have easily plucked a few more from my runners-up without losing any sleep. (A motif to which, as with others baked into this year’s blog, we shall, in roundabout manner, return.) And not to sound like a broken record, as it were, but you wonder why with so much talent and achievement coming from so many directions and from so many generations, jazz remains an afterthought, a marginal presence in the global marketplace. Unless I’m mistaken, nobody’s yet asked Esperanza Spalding – sorry, esperanza spalding – to headline a Super Bowl halftime show. Or even an NBA All-Star Weekend. At least, she headlines this list, or, more accurately, shares top billing.
But then, I often wonder whether music, any music, has much of a place in people’s lives these days. If whatever I’ve been seeing lately on Saturday Night Live’s musical guest shots are any indication, presentation and fashion are what matter more than whatever sounds are being made. (I know, I know, whatever the hell am I doing watching Saturday Night Live lately in the first place? Can’t blame COVID anymore, even if it doesn’t seem to have gone away after all…) So maybe it’s no longer just jazz –whatever people believe it to be – that’s getting hit in the face; it’s all the other genres that are now all merely boutiques. There are now college curricula in Hip-Hop History in case you haven’t heard.


Maybe this explains why lately I’ve been thinking about the way past generations, including mine, used to buy records. Briefly: you went to whatever outlet or department store had people you could trust, and you hung out, browsed, and maybe something was playing in the background that made you go, “What’s that?” The people you trusted were happy to not only tell you, but bring out a fresh copy of the thing that turned our head and you decided you needed to take this “ride” home. And then you shared it with other people who trusted you and maybe if there were little people in your house, they would hear it and start getting ideas…


My origin story. If you’re reading this, it’s probably yours, too.


I don’t know what the equivalent of this process is today unless you count tweets and Bandcamp messages in whatever in-box you reserve for such intelligence. I only know it’s not the same and neither is the world that make those earlier, more haphazard encounters possible.


All I know is that the Good Stuff still somehow makes it out and about. Think of me, then, as that guy in the department store or record outlet – whatever that is – tilting his head at the turntable in the corner. Like that? There’s some more over here…

 

 




1.) Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding, Alive at the Village Vanguard (Palmetto) – You need to give this one to the wisenheimers in your life demanding to know what’s so special about jazz, or even what jazz is. It’s possible these people at least remember hearing Barack Obama profess affection for Spalding while he was still president; maybe they’ve heard or even seen live performances of her varied bands showcasing her upright bass, acrobatic vocals, and varied ensembles. For this bare-bones live set at jazz’s Holy Dive with the redoubtable pianist Hersch, Spalding left her bass at home and what results from their collaboration – which I’ve been labeling “Herschsperanza,” and try and stop me from obtaining a copyright! – may be the grandest, most insurgent act of her still-ascendant career. Traditional pop standards are blown up, rewoven, and all-but terraformed into audacious counter-narratives through the interaction of Hersch’s polymorphic variations and Spalding’s serpentine, uproarious digressions. From Ira Gershwin’s lines of “But Not For Me” (“I was a fool to fall and get that way/Hi-ho, alas, and also lack-a-day”), Spalding extrapolates the following strain of vocalese: “Oh, me. Oh, my. What a sad case I seem to be. It’s my fault, letting love to lead the way. I should know that there’ll be skies of gray. I can’t say I’ve seen too many, but they say that Russian plays do boast of many gray skies, all right – and then some words I don’t really understand because it’s, like, old English – hi-ho, alas, and lackaday. That’s how I feel, confused about the whole situation…” She carries this willed ingenuity into smart-alecky battle against Bobby Troup’s ring-a-ding lyrics on Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk, which in her hands becomes a twelve-minute proto-feminist interrogation of male presumptiveness, at one point, veering into issues of “economic sustainability. Reduce, Reuse. Recycle…Am I lying?” while still riding the song’s theme and changes as if she were on a thoroughbred leading the Preakness by a length-and-a-half. Charlie Parker’s “Little Suede Shoes,” in like fashion, weaves a dream of dancing in suede shoes just as Hersch’s “Dream of Monk” becomes, with Spalding’s vocals, a clarion call for diligent, if circumspect weirdness. These tracks were culled from a three-night engagement, and I bet those in attendance felt as you will when this album ends: wishing these two crazy kids never stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 



2.) Matthew Shipp, The Intrinsic Nature of Shipp (Mahakala) –Three years ago, Shipp wrote an intriguing essay/manifesto, “Black Mystery School Pianists” (Monk, Herbie Nichols, Mal Waldron, Andrew Hill, Hassan Ibn Ali, to name a few examples) who each cultivated willfully idiosyncratic styles constituting “the subconscious of the jazz idiom…a secret code, passed through an underground way of passage, a language outside the mainstream.” Shipp’s own body-of-work over the last quarter-century so exemplifies this subversive counter-tradition he’s defined that it’s tempting to think of him as its apotheosis, especially when weighing the considerable assets of this latest solo album, which could be a kind of hypertext to his essay. The performances here feel at once more expansive and more challenging than usual. While he can still pile on the tone clusters with his customary intensity, as on the aptly named “Crystal Structures,” Shipp here lets more air and space flow and settle in his thematic extensions as with the graceful and intricate “That Vibration” and in his enigmatic montage of fugitive riffs on “The” – yes, that’s what it’s called and whatever mood he’s in, there abides in Shipp a punkish “what’s-it-to-you” impertinence hat, oddly and appropriately, makes him more endearing, whether he’s throwing down the sledgehammer on “The Bulldozer Poetics” or letting his ruminative side reach for deeper, wider tonal combinations on “Tune Into It.” Shipp cherishes his “Mystery School” progenitors for giving him permission to be as mad, bad, glad, and unpredictable as he wants, and needs, to be. However far he continues to expand on this tradition (and there’s a lot about this album that suggests a transition, even a breakthrough), this school won’t close with him. And times being what they are, I think the school will only increase its enrollment because there’ll always be outliers in America’s backyards and basements searching, as Shipp once did, for affirmation that it’s not only O.K. to be as weird as Thelonious, Herbie, and the rest, it’s necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



3.) Jason Moran, From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes) – Visionary badass James Reese Europe (1881-1919) helped make the American Century possible, though you likely never heard of him. He journeyed from his native Alabama to New York in his early 20s to write and conduct show music, then organized the Clef Club, an ambitious collective of Black musicians, whose dance orchestra, 125 members strong, performed a significant recital at Carnegie Hall. His ensembles bent the angularities of ragtime closer towards the looser, more propulsive syncopations shaping the jazz to come. He fought in World War I and organized the 369th Infantry Band, better known as the “Hellfighters.” He hadn’t been back home in Harlem for very long before he was stabbed to death, at just 38, by a drummer incensed with the boss’s criticisms of his on-stage deportment. You would think that a legend of this magnitude yielded dozens of contemporary tribute albums by now, if not a whole Netflix series. But you would also figure that Moran, an artist of comparable vision, would leap to the forefront of an eclectic parade in Europe’s honor, carrying the Hellfighter’s legacy across the century by seamlessly fusing Europe’s arrangement of “Ballin’ the Jack” with the late Geri Allen’s rousing standard “Feed the Fire.” A similar, even greater melding of different eras is executed with Europe’s paean to fallen soldiers, “Flee as a Bird to Your Mountain” transitioning to Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts” with solicitousness and intelligence towards both forms of 20th century modernism. Throughout, Moran’s wide-ranging pianistic gifts and crafty showmanship honors tradition and extends its possibilities with neither undue solemnity nor gratuitous flourish and his various ensembles, anchored by longtime trio mates bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits and including David Adewumi on trumpet, Reginald Cyntje and Chris Bates on trombones, Logan Richardson on alto sax, Brian Settles on tenor sax, Darryl Harper on clarinet, José Davila (about whom more later) on tuba, acquit themselves on “Clef Club March,” “Castle House Rag,” “St. Louis Blues” and “That Moaning Trombone” with discipline and energy that would have mightily pleased the demanding Europe. (Available on vinyl and from Bandcamp.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



4.) Henry Threadgill Ensemble, The Other One (PI) – The best jazz book I read this past year is Easily Slip Into Another World (Knopf), Threadgill’s autobiography, written with Brett Hayes Edwards. If you only knew Threadgill’s music, for which he’s already received the Pulitzer Prize, you could have surmised he had an extraordinary life. But…wow! Growing up musical in Chicago and helping create the seminal Association for the advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) before touring with an evangelical preacher in the mid-1960s and then heading off to Vietnam, hoping to survive jungle combat and racism…And even these experiences, however vividly rendered, are no less significant than all his spellbinding insights into modernism, improvisation, and using time and space to extend harmonic possibilities. Not that you couldn’t retrieve some of those same insights from listening to this three-movement composition, “On Valence,” conducted by Threadgill, rendered by an arresting 12-member combination of musicians, including pianist Davis Virelles, violinist Sara Caswell (about whom more later), violist Stephanie Griffin, cellists Christopher Hoffman and Mariel Roberts, and Threadgill’s longtime tuba player Jose Davilo. Even bassoonists Sara Schoenbeck and Adam Cordero are given opportunities to break off into their own intricate, elegantly woven musings. The 16-minute “Movement II” is a tour-de-force of roiling, extemporaneous interplay of the string section with saxophonists Alfredo Colón, Noah Becker, and Peyton Pleninger Each movement and subsection can be heard as episodes in an edge-of-the-seat pursuit thriller and its myriad arcane pleasures may be more accessible. But then, even at its most abstract and inscrutable, Threadgill’s music, in any configuration, finds a way of inviting you in. At the precipice of 80, Threadgill’s compositional powers seem, if anything, more formidable than ever. And as both his book and this album prove, he’s a helluva storyteller, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 


5.) Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Dynamic Maximum Tension (Nonesuch) – So let’s see: Buckminster Fuller, Levon Helm, Mae West, Bob Brookmeyer, Alan Turing…The far-flung subject matter for this wild and, yes, somewhat wooly program of inspirational big-band adventures comes across like a code waiting to be deciphered. Indeed, the first track on the second disc, a tribute to Turing, whose genius helped break down the Nazis, is entitled “Codebreaker” and its opening bars dare you to write out whatever combination of words and numbers its beat is tapping out – except you’ll be too busy digging that beat to care whether it means anything or not. The pleasures are constant, the inventions surprise. “Dymaxion,” a portmanteau of the album title, was coined by Fuller the merry futurist and the rhythmic mischief makes you alert to possibility and transfiguration throughout from “All In,” a tribute to charter Secret Society member Laurie Frank, to “Last Waltz for Levon,” which honors the memory of the late drummer for The Band to “Wingèd Beasts,” whose silky, tendril-like design is reminiscent of Brookmeyer’s arrangements for Gerry Mulligan’s big bands. Elsewhere, Cecile McLorin Salvant (about whom more later) drops by for “Mae West: Advice,” to have her impudent fun with Paisley Rekdal’s dada-like lyrics mimicking La West’s saucy bon mots (“…date a cad and canoodle/be éclat on a cot…”) As brainy as Argue’s music is, thematically and conceptually, it never fails to hit and sustain a solid groove, even on the epic, near-35-minute “Tensile Curves,” an anthology of tension-release motifs, time signatures, and riff extensions inspired by Duke Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.” Once again, you’ll be tempted to take the track apart, shove its fragments beneath an ontological microscope, and probe for methodology by virtue of its sheer dimension. But as with everything else in this bountiful, sunny exhibition of relentless virtuosity and cheeky intelligence, you’re better off just letting the orchestrations wash over and carry you along with its most of its mysteries intact and undisturbed. Not for nothing, after all, does Argue’s 18-piece aggregation roam the Earth as a “Secret Society.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


6.) Cecile McLorin Salvant, Mélusine (Nonesuch) – She keeps raising the stakes on her range of expression, her repertoire, and her conceptual prowess, both as a vocalist and as a maker of albums. Once again, she shows her fearlessness in not doing the same thing twice with this daring, almost imposing array of French chanson and other music woven around the record’s eponymous half-woman-half-serpent mythic figure from the 14th century. (The short version: she turned into a dragon and flew away after her duplicitous lover came upon her snake-like part.) The song cycle fashioned to tell her story begins with “Est-Ce Ainsi Que Les Hommes Vivent” (“Is This the Way Men Live?”) with lyrics by Louis Aragon and music by Leo Ferre, which is followed closely by Charles Trenet’s “La Route Enchantée” and eventually to Mélusine posing the musical question, “Dites Moi Que Je Suis Belle” (“Tell Me I’m Beautiful”), carrying echoes of Salvant’s “Look at Me” from her 2015 For One to Love. Which is as good a prompt as any to how the singer’s gifts as a composer meld so seamlessly with those of the French composers she honors here, most especially in the startlingly gorgeous title song, which she performs bilingually with only Daniel Swenberg’s acoustic guitar as backup. It would be tempting to say that Salvant, like her heroine here, has taken flight it weren’t for the fact – yes, an irrefutable fact – that she is already her own mighty legend, majestically soaring several hundred miles above any vocalist in any medium you can name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


7.) Sara Caswell, The Way to You (Anzic) – One of those cases where a seasoned, resourceful instrumentalist is matched with a first-rate supporting cast (vibraphonist Chris Dingman as special guest star!) and a far-flung itinerary of genres and styles. And what you get is an album that refuses to sit quietly on the shelf all year long. Caswell’s clear tone, fluid dynamics, and agile phrasing on the violin are what you needed all year round, whether to paint sonic landscapes you can imagine drifting by your car window (“South Shore”), pull your coat in frisky, breathless give-and-take on a crowded dance floor (“7 Anéis”), tear off an aromatic slice of classic hard bop (“Voyage” by Kenny Barron – about whom more later), or bathe the senses in balladry, by turns probing (”Stillness”), impassioned (“O Que Tinha De Ser,” “On the Way to You”), and pastoral (“Warren’s Way”). Caswell led her working quartet of bassist Ike Sturm, drummer Jared Schonig, and guitarist Jesse Lewis for a project that, if the album notes are to be believed, took 17 years to put together. She’s very busy; her dance card has names like the aforementioned Threadgill, Spalding and Argue, and prominent jazz bandleaders crowded all along the genre waterfront in pursuit of her services. I speak here only for myself, but I hope it doesn’t take as long for a follow-up to materialize, even though I don’t expect to get tired of this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


8.) Kenny Barron, The Source (Artwork) – The first thing to mention is the gorgeous acoustics. I’ve never actually been to the Théâtre d’Athenéé in Paris, but after diving deep into this solo recital countless times over the past year, the place is as familiar to me as my family’s basement rec room (where, by the way, I first heard Barron’s piano comping on Joe Henderson’s 1967 album, The Kicker.) As with his immediate surroundings, Professor Barron conveys an imposing, but expansive familiarity in his playing. And yet, as much as you think you may already know about the Strayhorn-Ellington standards, “Daydream” and “Isfahan,” Barron burrows deep within the contours of their melodies rather than spin into virtuosic inventions. The corners, this approach insists, is where you find the gold. He also reasserts his primacy as an interpreter of Monk’s music, speaking fluent Thelonious (while remaining his elegant. dryly romantic self) on “Teo” and “Well, You Needn’t.” But it’s in Barron’s own beautiful and haunting compositions where what once seems familiar is transformed into something you never heard before. “Dolores Street, SF”is a fog-shrouded dawn over a landscape huge enough to contain both possibility and loss and he has you on the edge of your seat wondering how, or if, it reaches resolution. The Brazilian-inflected “Sunshower” has a different, downward trajectory that puts forth its own bittersweet lyricism while the jocular “What If?” and the eerie “Phantoms” are reinvigorated by Barron’s authoritative progressions. The master, all told, is in wondrously durable voice and leaves you waiting for more surprises, alone or with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 



9.) Anat Fort Trio, The Berlin Sessions (Sunnyside) – The world as we know it has been all too much with Israeli pianist Fort, who was forced by the 2020 lockdown to be separated from bassist Gary Lang and drummer Roland Schneider after two decades of working together. Two-and-a-half years later, they reunited in Munich for a one-time gig and then headed for Berlin’s Hansa Studios to release what was apparently a metric ton of pent-up energy. In these sessions, you hear the joy, relief, and exuberance in being able to let chance take its course and play freely with whatever ideas and phrases materialize in their shared space. “First Dance” sets off a four-part, 16-minute suite of reacquaintance that gives the group a chance to loosen up, pitch, catch, and spin off each other’s ideas and, as the cliché goes, it’s as though they’ve never been away from each other. Once they’re settled in, the trio settles in for another series of pieces written by Fort and inspired by pieces of eastern art at New York’s Rubin Museum, making “The Jain Suite” its own gallery of insinuating harmonic and tonal designs. The reunion spills over into another disc with a rollicking blend of Fort originals (“Wish Cloud,” “Fire Drill Blues”), a matched set of old (“All the Things You Are”) and (relatively) new (“Just The Way You Are”) pop standards delivered with conviction and affection, and even a little something from Level 42 (“The Sun Goes Down”) What made this trio session stand out so starkly from others released this year are two meditative pieces that seemed especially affecting given the violent upheavals in Fort’s homeland: “Oseh Shalom,” a rendition of composer Nurit Hirsh’s prayer for peace, and “The World as a Human Being,” which comes across as both a somber lament for squandered opportunities and a defiant plea for renewal and resolution. At least, that’s what I heard. But, as a listener, I’m part of this collaborative process, too.

 

 

 

 

 



10.) Allen Lowe & the Constant Sorrow Orchestra, In the Dark (ESP) – These three discs celebrate (if that’s the right word) a more arduous recovery process. Lowe, a protean composite of saxophonist, bandleader, archivist, producer, composer, sound engineer, musicologist, cultural historian, and gadfly (still not sure whether he altogether approves of my using that last one) has had to somehow persevere through these myriad vocations while undergoing more than a dozen operations for cancer, including surgery for removal of a tumor from his sinus. This left Lowe with a debilitating case of insomnia in which he was at best able to doze for minutes at a time, said times being as early at 5 a.m. or as late as, well, 5 a.m. Throughout this harrowing time, Lowe somehow kept writing and composing music and, with the help of his faithful and highly adaptable musician friends – pianist (and fellow musicologist) Lewis Porter, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, altoist Aaron Johnson, drummer Rob Landis, bassist Kyle Colina, trombonist Brian Simontacchi, trumpeter Kellin Hannas, and baritone saxist Lisa Parrott – assembled a formidably eclectic bounty of recordings that manage to evoke several traditions of jazz and blues in ways that sound both cutting edge and mischievously retro in the manner of Lowe’s previous projects. (In case you need it, there’s even a tango called “Velasco’s Revenge.”) Scattered throughout are compositions prefaced by “In the Dark” suggesting they were written at those midnight-or-later hours when he couldn’t sleep. The rest of those titles suggest his moods of those moments; on the one hand, there are “Night Terrors,” “Tears,” and “; on the other, there’s “Dance of the Apparitions” and “Elvis Don’t you Weep.” Along with the tributes to Eric Dolphy, Barry Harris, Jelly Roll Morton, and Duke Ellington, there are other crafty gnomish tunes with such crafty gnomish titles as “Kickin’ the Bucket,” “Innuendo in Blue,” “Blues for Old Jews,” and “Do You Know What It Means to Leave New Orleans,” the latter of which could be a teaser for his long-awaited Louis Armstrong project. Yes, he’s working as you read this, despite the ongoing physical challenges and, lest one forget, he sounds pretty good on his tenor saxophone for somebody who’s been through as much as he has.

 

 

 

 



HONORABLE MENTION: Tyshawn Sorey Trio, Continuing (PI), Myra Melford’s Fire & Water Quintet, Hear the Light Singing (RogueArt), Christian McBride’s New Jawn, Prime (Mack Avenue), Brad Mehldau, Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays the Beatles (Nonesuch), Kris Davis’s Diatom Ribbons, Live at the Village Vanguard (Pyroclastic), Orrin Davis, The Red Door (Smoke Sessions) Craig Taborn, Joëlle Léandre, Mat Maneri, hEARoes (RogueArt).


VOCAL
Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding, Alive at the Village Vanguard (Palmetto)
Cecile McLorin Salvant, Mélusine (Nonesuch)
Luciana Sousa & Trio Corrente, Cometa (Sunnyside)

 

 


LATIN
Miguel Zenon & Luis Perdomo, El Arte del Bolero, Vol. 2 (Miel Music)
Luciana Sousa & Trio Corrente, Cometa (Sunnyside)
Arturo O’Farrill, Legacies (Blue Note)

 

 

 

 



HISTORIC
Geri Allen & Kurt Rosenwinkel, A Lovesome Thing (Motema)
Ahmad Jamal, Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 (Jazz Detective)
Sun Ra & His Arkestra, Jazz in Silhouette: Expanded Edition (Cosmic Myth) 

Gene Seymour’s Top Ten Jazz Albums for 2021

 

 

I’m not altogether sure what it says about this year – or, rather, my year – in jazz that for the first time since I started putting these things together, a single artist dominates my annual list as William Parker does this one. It’s not as though he’s an overnight sensation; he’s been a redoubtable and influential fixture on the progressive jazz scene since the 1970s when the music’s cutting edge could be found working through its experiments in big-city lofts. But his impulse to outwork, out-produce and out-gig his peers both within and outside the (so-called) avant-garde has been especially apparent this year, not just with the significance of the ten-disc omnibus that leads the list (see below), but in the appearance during the past 12 months of at least six albums bearing his name, including three that are also on the list. (5, 6 and 10) It helps that Parker is something of a polymath: a grandmaster of the upright bass with a formidable body-of-work as a composer along with an ability to express himself on many other instruments and an accomplished, if relatively unsung poet. From reading Cisco Bradley’s Universal Tonality: The Life and Work of William Parker (Duke University Press), also published this year, one gets the impression that irrepressible curiosity and a multiplicity of interests are among the things that drive Parker forward. I’m sort of thinking that most of us who have struggled throughout 2021 to recuperate in various ways from 2020 while still feeling wary and uneasy about what’s happening now and whatever’s ahead could profit from the example set by somebody like William Parker, who at 70 has cultivated and honed his craft to a glistening edge while retaining an active abhorrence of injustice, a profound sense of cultural history and a steadfast, self-effacing core of spiritual equilibrium.

Most of the other artists on this year’s list have in different ways released albums that convey those same values. Some are declarative in expression, others more contemplative. They engage the prevailing disquiet, not (necessarily) in anger, but with a determination to face turbulence and dread with clarity and understanding. (I almost said “correctness.” I refuse to say “woke.” Never mind why.)

Also: if you’d somehow found my 20-something self under siege in the seventies and told me that more than a half-century later, albums headlined by both Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp would be included among my personal top-ten list, I’d have said you were either daft or irrationally optimistic. Their octogenarian triumphs make me wonder whether, “irrational optimism” is a legitimate and necessary response to whatever’s now threatening us all, whether from nature or from humans. It may well be that both Sanders and Shepp persist because they’re both still somehow necessary to fight the power in their different ways. Feel free to suggest that in another few decades, four of Wynton Marsalis’ albums will find their way to the upper half of such lists, assuming we’ll still have albums, or lists, or…

No. Let’s not go to there. We’re going to try “irrational optimism” for a while longer. At least, I am.

 





1.) The Music of William Parker, Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World, Volumes 1-10 (AUM) – On its own, this imposing gallery-without-walls is a Top-10 list. And not just for jazz, but also for world music, art songs, soundscapes and “spoken poetry.” Think of it also as a ginormous prism that, when held to natural light, emits wildly varying arrays of color and echo. The first volume, “Blue Limelight,” sets the table for its successors as Parker’s musical autobiography suffused with childhood memories and dreams (“Cosmic Funk,” “A Great Day to Be Dead”) and reminiscences of such colleagues as Cecil Taylor and lesser-know-but-still-legendary Hoboken trumpeter Bennie Bishop. The remaining volumes comprise a portable universe of possibility – and of orchestration: a whole disc of solo piano pieces played by Eri Yamamoto taking off from some of the composer’s personal iconography (Malachi Favors, Malcolm X) and his abiding engagement with Native American history and culture; another volume, “Cheops,” whose title track is named after an Egyptian pyramid, places in its foreground the startling range and pyrotechnics of vocalist Kyoko Kitamura with Parker not only playing bass, but also a bass dudek (an ancient Armenian double-reed instrument) and fujara (a “fipple flute,” tall enough to stare down a bassoon). The composer provides plenty of space for voices to lay out, notably on a volume where Lisa Sokolov does a stunning a capella recital of Parker’s “Afternoon Poem.” Parker throughout is less of a presence on bass than he is on other such exotic instruments whose deployment emerges in all manner of settings whether they are reveries of Harlem, Mexico or the films of Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni, and other Italian filmmakers (“Lights in the Rain.”) To find the best encapsulation of this ambitious collection, you need to go all the way back to the first volume’s third track, “I’d Rather Be” in which this titan of what is still regarded as jazz’s “avant-garde” has a character from one his “tone poems” declare that she “would rather be a human being than be avant-garde [because] the most avant-garde thing you can be is a human being.”


 

 



2.) Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet with Wynton Marsalis,The Democracy! Suite (Blue Engine) – The leanest, tightest, toughest-minded music released under Wynton Marsalis’ name in decades made its public debut in the Appel Room of J@LC’s Frederick C. Rose Hall in September 2020, just about the time when the shattering events of that year were propelling the nation towards its Election Day rendezvous with destiny. There was no live audience because of the COVID-19 lockdown. But there’s urgency, momentum and focus merging together in Marsalis’ eight-part composition in ways not often encountered in his previous work. The first track, “Be Present,” is as declamatory as its title, throwing punches at the prevailing chaos without flailing. Once this group has your attention, it keeps up the pace with “Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize (Black Lives Matter),” a piquant rouser upon which Marsalis’ old boss Art Blakey would have pounced with polychordal brio. Of the ensemble’s soloists, J@LC mainstay Walter Blanding makes his tenor sax growl deep and dissonant on this track, in case there’s any doubt that Marsalis and his men are out to kick Trumpism in the teeth. But it’s not all grievance and exasperation. Things perk up with “Ballot Box Bounce” anchored by reed master Ted Nash’s breezy rendering on flute of Marsalis’ witty melody and “That Dance We Do (That You Love),” with Blanding, Nash, trombonist Elliot Mason, pianist Dan Nimmer, drummer Obed Calvaire, and bassist Carlos Henriquez helping their leader here and elsewhere make his most emphatic case yet for jazz being the consummate expression of, and metaphor for the democratic process: individual freedom flourishing within the collective imperative. And if the resilience of that paradox isn’t clear to all, or even some, Marsalis composes a movement for that, too: “It Come ‘Round ‘Gin.” As everything, good, bad, and indifferent, always does in America.

 

 

 

 

 


3.) Veronica Swift, This Bitter Earth (Mack Avenue)— For Swift, the classic pop song repertoire is more than an arena for her fearsome vocal agility. It is also a mode of interrogation, an agency of dissent. Think of how her sister Millennial phenom Cecile McLorin Salvant assembled a concept album of standards, 2015’s For One to Love, illuminating the often-casually toxic quirks of the male gaze. The title track of Swift’s latest album, which until now seemed the sole property of Dinah Washington, signals thoughtful and passionate engagement with the anxious present. She applies shading and intensity to the Clyde Otis dirge, which at once contains its majesty while maximizing its power. It’s an exquisite balancing act that sets the table for the creative and virtuosic renditions of stage musical standards and such Brill Building oddities as “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss),” Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s disquieting dissection of abusive love, which she sings to the stark accompaniment of Armand Hirsch’s guitar. She carries this inquiry into questionable behavior between the sexes to such grand old war horses as “As Long as He Needs Me” from “Oliver!” and “How Lovely to Be a Woman,” from “Bye Bye Birdie,” whose effervescent interpretation barely conceals the gimlet-eyed contempt for its implicit sexism. She trains her sights on racism with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” which is immediately, but no less trenchantly (or imaginatively) countered with that same duo’s “Getting To Know You.” Her range of concerns is as deep and wide as her vocal resources, taking in Bob Dorough’s bopping “You’re the Dangerous Type” and Dave Frishberg’s “The Sports Page,” cheekily summing up why so many of us seek refuge in scores and highlights from the exasperations of whatever “hard news” delivers. The present spreads all over This Bitter Earth. But Swift’s mesmerizing chops remain Beautiful and True in any time frame.

 

 

 

 

 



4.) Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders featuring the London Symphony Orchestra, Promises (Luaka Bop) – OK. John Coltrane’s Ascension, right? Pharoah Sanders was one of the eleven musicians who played on that landmark 1965 album that drew a line in the sand between those who were totally onboard for the Free Jazz rocket flight and those who wanted no part of it. After a six-decade career which he began as an avatar for “outside” saxophone inventions, Sanders, now 81, aligned himself with British electronic music artisan Sam Shepherd, alias Floating Points, who composed a nine-part suite he and Sanders recorded with the LSO not long before everything locked down. So, what does the tempestuous Ascension, which I’ve routinely characterized (in a good way) as a “sonic maelstrom” or a “polyphonic orchestrated abstraction” have in common with a sequence of suggestive, near-pastoral impressions? (A glibly convenient, if not terribly useful shorthand description might be, “trance music with soul.”) For one thing, both works take off from a simple progression of notes that become an ongoing riff: Ascension takes off from five while Promises sets sail from seven. Each work also wears its own brand of inscrutability, daring you to poke around its layers, resisting any effort towards “understanding” what makes each of them tick. With Promises, there are tensions winnowing throughout between space and time, declaration and insinuation, abandonment and resolve. Sanders’ voice, downier, warmer, but every bit as probing and incantatory as it was when he was in his mid-twenties, is what carries you along the contours laid out by Shepherd’s keyboards and the LSO’s strings. (At various points, you hear the saxophonist’s gentle singing voice seeping into the mixture with his own non-verbal lyrics.) On the whole, the album delivers nowhere near the same kind of intensity associated with Ascension. It is a far subtler, more enchanting, and comparably provocative experience that coerces repeated listening in search of more secrets, not resolutions necessarily, just more secrets.

 

 

 


5.) William Parker, Painter’s Winter (AUM)

 

 

 



6.) William Parker, Mayan Space Station (AUM) – Two very different trios make the case for Parker’s mastery of both his principal instrument and of guiding small bands of any size towards expansive and productive interplay. With electric guitarist Ava Mendoza setting off harmonic firestorms propelled by the equally combustible drummer Gerald Cleaver, Mayan Space Station is redolent of the riveting mosaics of amplified sound forged in trios led by the late Sonny Sharrock. Parker’s bass playing does as much breakaway running as his two partners, though most of the time he’s content to drive this vehicle forward and let their younger people go off. The acoustic trio on Painter’s Window that includes multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter and drummer Hamid Drake seems a lot more composed. But their collaboration is just as intense and deeply committed with Carter’s solos on trumpet, saxophones and flute unfurling intricate patterns as Drake’s percussive momentum shifty enough to keep up with the indefatigable bassist. Besides Parker, the only quality these two discs share is narrative drive that’s both refined and rugged.

 

 

 

 



7.) Kimbrough (Newvelle) – Frank Kimbrough died just before last New Year’s Eve at 64, setting off a still-resounding wave of shock and grief from generations of jazz musicians who played with or studied under him. Among these artists, Kimbrough was beloved as a “pianist’s pianist,” a droll and ubiquitous presence on the New York City scene, an archivist tending diligently to the legacies of Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk, a crucial member of the critically acclaimed Maria Schneider Orchestra, a devoted teacher who mentored aspiring musicians at NYU and Julliard, and a gifted, uncompromising, and prolific composer. It is mostly to that latter aspect of Kimbrough’s life and work that this extensive, ambitious tribute album was recorded almost six months after his death. There are 61 tracks featuring 67musicians in 55 different combinations. Any random sample of the players involved – Ben Allison, Fred Hersch, Michael Blake, Dave Douglas, Craig Taborn, Joe Lovano, Matt Wilson, Helen Sung, Noah Preminger, among many others – is enough to suggest the breadth and depth of Kimbrough’s influence on his peers and ex-pupils alike. The compositions they play, sometimes on one take and in different versions (“Reluctance” is rendered in solo and quartet form) offer so many revelations as to suggest decades to come of workshops, repertory orchestrations and ensemble performances of Kimbrough’s mostly unsung work spreading out to concert halls and colleges here and abroad. In the immediate aftermath of Kimbrough’s passing, one of his heartbroken friends wondered whether it marked the end of an era or the beginning of a new one. This album’s release reinforces my belief that it’s more the latter. I’m sure Frank would agree.

 

 

 

 



8.) Archie Shepp & Jason Moran, Let My People Go (Archieball) – There was always something of the old-time spiritual revivalist in Shepp, even as far back as the mid-1960s when he emerged as one of the more stridently political of the emerging tenor saxophonists inspired and nurtured by John Coltrane. At 83, Shepp doesn’t let his phrasings wail with the sustained force he exerted on such classics as 1966s Mama Too Tight, 1972’s Attica Blues or (my all-time favorite) 1975’s A Sea of Faces. His mature style relies more on space and timing, the vocalizing more contained, but no less intense. In this collaboration with the mighty, simpatico pianist Jason Moran, Shepp sings with and without the tenor or (mostly) soprano sax with a depth of feeling that releases itself in bursts, especially in the “sorrow songs” such as “Go Down, Moses” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” Shepp’s stark, weathered vocals allow you to hear each line and word with a deeper sense of desolation and yearning on these spirituals and Moran’s own spare and impeccably timed comping provides an elegant frame for Shepp’s arias. On the other tracks, Shepp and Moran are more conversational, their measured, lively exchange of themes and ideas inspiring fresh ways of engaging such familiar standards as Ellington’s and Strayhorn’s “Isfahan,” Monk’s “Round Midnight,” Coltrane’s “Wise One,” Shepp’s own “Ujamaa,” and, in an especially multi-layered rendering, Moran’s own “He Cares.” Shepp’s patented blurts, bleats and squawks flare up over the cushions of chords Moran sets loose or holds back whenever the occasion demands. It often sounds as though both are collaborating on separate dramas with their synchronistical dialogue weaving seamlessly into place. One remembers that back in those 1960s, Shepp was, among other things, a playwright.

 

 

 

 

 

 


9.) Julian Lage, Squint (Blue Note) – Anyone whose curriculum vitae includes gigs with Nels Cline, Charles Lloyd, John Zorn, Bela Fleck, Gary Burton, David Grisman and Yoko Ono should have your attention from the jump. And Lage (pronounced “lahzh,” as in “lozenge”) goes all out on his first release with the fabled Blue Note label to show he can do anything and everything he wants to with a guitar, whether it’s a neoclassical a cappella solo (“Etude”), straight-ahead swing (“Boo Blues,” the title track), classic covers (Johnny Mandel’s “Emily,” Gene Autry’s “Call of the Canyon”), country-rock (“Day and Age,” “Twilight Surfer”). Clearly Lage knows more than a little about a lot of different genres. But he makes his best impression as a player not by leading with his learning or virtuosity, but by gently asserting and maneuvering his own sensibility into each piece. It helps to have a rhythm section of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King as smart and attentive to his needs as any great piano trio. Indeed, Lage’s trio has drawn comparisons to Bill Evans’ deathless 1961 Village Vanguard threesome both for the seamless interaction between the principals and the insinuating lyricism. Other influences raise their hands for attention in Lage’s style from Chet Atkins to Pat Martino. But Lage, who first gained notice as an eight-year-old prodigy, is still just getting started and with greater name recognition an all-but-inevitable result from Squint , one gets a little tingly over what he’ll be able to do with even broader resources available to him.

 

 

 

 

10.) William Parker & Matthew Shipp, Re-Union 2021 (Rogue Art) – Though Parker and Shipp have worked together on several projects with larger groups, this Re-Union marks only the third time they’ve played together as a duo. Their respective personalities blend so well together that it’s surprising they haven’t “re-unioned” more often. As with most friends’ conversations, one of them starts out with something small: a thread, a fragment, a half-baked suggestion, the punch line of a joke neither knows about (yet), any of which could make the other either carry the thought towards a tentative conclusion or veer off into another topic entirely. Which is how I’d best characterize the 22-minute title track that kicks things off. If you’re able to keep up with the exchange, you can start taking measure of the two personalities and how they are or aren’t alike. Shipp’s eccentric, enigmatic combinations of chord clusters follow their own logic while Parker’s austere, but fluid bass lines follow him along when they’re not shoving him in an altogether different direction. Neither seems particularly worried about whether the other lands, though the unwary listener should always be alert for shifts in direction, temperament, maybe an impromptu lull in their transaction before picking up the previous thread or finding a new one. They’re both free spirits in different ways – but not so free-spirited that they forget you’re listening. So be ready when Parker decides to pick up his bow to assert himself more or Shipp re-doubles his efforts to deepen his attack. Think of it as just another afternoon of eavesdropping at the coffee house when voices are raised without warning, but nobody’s mad at anybody.
In this spirit, we leave the last words to both these gentlemen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



HONORABLE MENTION: Kenny Garrett, Sounds from the Ancestors (Mack Avenue); Vijay Iyer, Uneasy (ECM); Henry Threadgill Zooid, Poof (PI); Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trios, Songs from My Father (Whaling City Sound); Bill Charlap Trio, Street of Dreams (Blue Note) Artifacts (Tomeka Reid, Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed)…and then there’s this (Astral Spirits)

 

 

 

 

REISSUE OR HISTORICAL RELEASE: 1.) Hasaan Ibn Ali, Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album (Omnivore) 2.) Roy Hargrove & Mulgrew Miller, In Harmony (Resonance) 3.) Hasaan Ibn Ali, Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings (Omnivore)

 

 

 

 


LATIN: Eliane Elias, Chick Corea & Chucho Valdes, Mirror, Mirror (Candid)

VOCAL: Swift, This Bitter Earth
HONORABLE MENTION: Mary LaRose, Out There (Little Music)

 

 

 


DEBUT: Patricia Brennan, Maquishti (Valley of Search)

Herbie Nichols: A Study in Frustration

 

 

 

 

So this is what happens when you’re double-sequestered by piles of snow from a big, beautiful nor’easter along with the ongoing threat of pandemic – and NO damn vaccines available and accessible within miles of where you are. You hear a Herbie Nichols record and think to yourself: this is exactly what makes sense right now.

It wasn’t the music itself that brought me back to Nichols so much as a YouTube video posted by Jason Moran a few weeks ago featuring a rare WBAI radio interview with Nichols from 1962, which meant it took place on Mait Eady’s “The Scope of Jazz” show when the nonpareil pianist-composer had months left to live before dying, at 44, in April, 1963 from leukemia.

The conversation is, therefore, a blessed gift from the universe. It retains Nichols’ lovely and lucid speaking voice and affirms what writers like A.B. Spellman have attested about his warmth and wide-ranging intelligence. One also infers that if Nichols was getting interviews like these, then the relative obscurity he’d faced after his mid-1950s run of albums for Blue Note and Bethlehem may have shown signs of dissipating at last and that listeners were ready to engage what once seemed even to the adventurous an eccentric body-of-work.

 

 



It’s only towards the end of this fascinating interview, with plenty of his compositions and recordings weaved into the mix, that you hear Nichols’ frustration with being marginalized in comparison with fellow modernists such as Thelonious Monk, who was by the Kennedy years enjoying a burgeoning nationwide vogue thanks to his contract with Columbia Records. Nichols aims his irritation, ever so gently, at jazz critics, who he wishes had more grounding in formal musical education and could therefore better appreciate, or at least begin to understand what he’d been trying to do. Eady, sounding somewhat flustered, confesses to Nichols that he has no musical training, prompting Nichols to suggest, with all the geniality at his disposal, that he should consider getting some.

In my time as a jazz journalist, I used to hear this a lot from musicians who believed, not entirely without justification, that we were getting in the way of their transactions with the audience by not being able to satisfactorily explain the technical nuances of what they’re doing. Once, early in my jazz reporting tenure at New York Newsday, I was taking notes at a Carnegie Hall concert when I glanced across the aisle at a competitor for another daily who seemed to be scribbling harder than I was. I tried to match his intensity before leaning close enough to see what he was writing: not words, impressions and titles (as I was), but actual musical notation! Like…notes, key signatures, clefs, man!

I slunk into my chair, despondent, believing myself to be an imposter and wondering what the hell I thought I was doing here. But I still had a deadline to meet and went back to whatever it was I was doing.

In time, I got over this by eventually reminding myself that my job, in the end, wasn’t to deconstruct technical information well enough to satisfy the demands of those I was writing about. My job was to report back to readers how it sounded to me and, in doing so, convey to those who weren’t at Carnegie Hall that night or any other venue on any other engagement what it felt like to be there. My readers and, for that matter, the musicians on stage were just going to have to trust that I’d listened to enough jazz, done enough background research and cultivated my instincts sufficiently enough to tell my story to others who, to varying degrees, were as familiar with, or more to the point, as interested in the subject as I was.

That was all. Maybe it wasn’t enough for some. But my readers trusted me for a long enough time to put up with my reporting. So I must have done something right.

And while I understand the frustration of musicians like Herbie Nichols, I now believe that having critics with the keenest first-hand musical knowledge try to mediate their art with the public doesn’t necessarily guarantee a bigger, more receptive audience. Even scholarly musicologists, I submit, can be overly influenced by conventional wisdom and they can be just as oblivious to Something Totally New as whatever musicians imagine to be the clueless masses. It’s as true with all art: movies, books, paintings, dance and fashion. There are whole eras where it’s hip to be square, or at least, safe. Even “square” can catch people off-guard when they’re expecting something more rhomboid or triangular. If that makes any sense…

Whatever. It’s just a pleasure to be able to argue with a long-lost master in absentia. And as long as we’re here, in case you aren’t aware of who Herbie Nichols was and why he mattered to so many of us who still exult in modernism’s resilient wonders, here’s an entry I wrote for a long-defunct biographical jazz site. It also places before the court an example of how a relative “amateur” in formal musicology tries explaining genius to whomever shows up to listen. Consider this, also, a sideways homage to Frank Kimbrough, a keeper of Nichols’ flame and a great pianist in his own right, whom we lost sometime close to the start of this new, presumably better, year.

 

 




NICHOLS, HERBIE (HERBERT HORATIO) Jan. 3, 1919-April 12, 1963

Herbie Nichols’ compulsively inquisitive spirit lives within every session player struggling to cultivate an individual sound within the din of the marketplace. Nichols spent most of his career working in bands whose music wasn’t nearly as idiosyncratic or progressive as his was. If the stars had been better aligned in his favor (or, as some of his friends have suggested, he was less self-effacing), Nichols would have been regarded in his lifetime as a modern jazz pianist as innovative as Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Yet it is only in the years since his death, at 44, from leukemia that Nichols has slowly achieved the stature he deserves. He has seduced subsequent generations of listeners and musicians with his angular melodies and rhythmically-sculpted harmonies.


The son of emigrants from Trinidad and St. Kitts, Herbie Nichols was born Jan. 3, 1919 in New York City’s San Juan Hill section in the West 60s. At age 7, he moved with his family further uptown to Harlem where, two years later, he began studying piano with a teacher who stressed classical training. As a youth, Nichols was said to be introspective and fun-loving, good at checkers and chess, steeped in books (a favorite author, according to his friend, trombonist Roswell Rudd, was the Russian Nikolai Gogol) and attracted enough to the popular music of his teen years to play jazz with a high school combo.

 

 


His first professional gig came in 1937 with the Royal Baron Orchestra, led by saxophonist Freddie Williams and featuring bassist George Duvivier. A year later, Nichols began working regularly at Monroe’s Uptown House which, along with another Harlem venue, Minton’s Playhouse, would become legendary in jazz lore as an incubator for the modernist upheaval in jazz music. In later interviews, Nichols would say he was both stimulated and put off by the hothouse competitive atmosphere generated by the virtuosi who would invent bebop and other post-swing genres. He was unhappy with what he later characterized as a clique mentality among the musicians who worked at Monroe’s and Minton’s. The critic Leonard Feather, in liner notes written for one of Nichols’ 1955 Blue Note albums, recalled Nichols being “pushed off the piano stool” at after-hours jam sessions by less-talented players.


He was drafted in 1941 and served 18 months in the Infantry with little opportunity to either take part in battle or play music. When he returned to New York in 1943, Nichols was unable to connect with the burgeoning bebop movement, playing mostly with rhythm-and-blues or New Orleans-style bands. Among his more prominent employers from the mid-1940s through the early 1950s were Danny Barker, Hal Singer, Illinois Jacquet, Snub Mosely, Arnett Cobb, Edgar Sampson and John Kirby. Through it all, Nichols was also struggling to find his way as a composer, sending off musical pieces that were either neglected or rejected by publishers.

 

 

 


Then in 1951, Nichols met Mary Lou Williams, a pianist attracted to the kind of quirky, insurgent music being written by Monk and his contemporaries. After hearing Nichols play some of his compositions, Williams recorded three of his tunes, “The Bebop Waltz” (which she re-titled “Mary’s Waltz”), “Stennell,” which she dubbed “Opus 2” and “At Da Function.” (Nichols’ flair with titling his own work would become apparent as he recorded as a leader, though his most famous piece, “Lady Sings the Blues” was originally dubbed “Serenade,” until Billie Holiday heard it and was so taken with the melody that she wrote her own lyrics to the tune, whose new name was also the title of her 1955 autobiography.)
Nichols continued to work mostly for traditional jazz and swing bands throughout the northeastern United States while auditioning for his own club dates and recording sessions. Blue Note Records co-owner Alfred Lion remembers Nichols being especially persistent for more than a decade in asking for a chance to record his own music. Lion gave Nichols his shot. In May and August, 1955, Nichols recorded with bassist Al McKibbon and drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach. He recorded another session the following August with Roach and bassist Teddy Kotick. Two 10-inch albums were released by Blue Note from those sessions and were immediately hailed by critics, though relatively neglected by the public. The same outcome greeted his only other album as a leader, Love, Gloom, Cash, Love, released in 1957 by Bethlehem to glowing reviews and anemic sales.

 

 

 


Nichols went back to playing Dixieland music for dough, though in his latter years, his recordings had acquired cult status among an emergent generation of progressive musicians, including Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Buell Neidlinger and Roswell Rudd. Nichols’ reputation as a composer and innovator was still a well-kept secret and his frustration only deepened with every throwaway gig, every indifferent audience he faced. “He seemed to be dying of disillusionment,” wrote A.B. Spellman, the critic and historian whose 1966 book, Four Lives in the Bebop Business, helped set in motion Nichols’ posthumous restoration. “He knew his worth, but it seemed as if nobody else did.”


Perhaps only a sensibility as independent, contemplative, wistful and tenacious as Nichols could have forged such alluring, yet provocative music. As with his friend and rival Monk, Nichols plays and writes with calculated indifference to melodic and harmonic convention. His main themes, as with the aforementioned “Lady Sings the Blues”, are accessible and even “hum-able.” Yet his variations often spread themselves in eccentric patterns within, around and through the song’s intervals. Listen, for instance, to his rendition of “The Gig” on his Blue Note collection and you’ll hear phrases repeated, stretched, smashed and re-shaped along a seeming riot of tempo shifts that never veer too far from the rhythmic core. You sometimes wonder whether the piano is bracing up the rhythm section or vice-versa. Either is plausible, given Nichols’ affinity for harmonies that keep time as much as they play with it.


The title track from Love Gloom Cash Love   is as melancholy as acerbic as its title  would lead you to believe. Yet its progression owes as much to classical music as it does to Tin Pan Alley song structure. Nichols’ sense of mood, drama and narrative timing can be found in just about any one of his compositions, such as “House Party Starting,” which trumps the sense of anticipation aroused at the start for the eponymous party with what Nichols, in liner notes he’d written for one of the Blue Note albums, “grave and silent doubts as to whether there is really going to be a parry, whether there is going to be lots of fun.” Contrasts stalk a Herbie Nichols composition as disappointment often trailed his life’s achievements.

 

 

 


After Nichols’ death, a host of musicians from Rudd, Neidlinger and Shepp to John Coltrane, Steve Lacy and Misha Mengleberg performed and enhanced his work in order to help fix his name in the global jazz repertoire. One can also hear Nichols’ influence in an eclectic assortment of younger piano talents, notably Geri Allen, Jason Moran and Frank Kimbrough, who in the 1990s helped spearhead the Herbie Nichols Project, an ensemble of musicians dedicated to performing Nichols’ compositions, including those never before performed, though ensconced in the Library of Congress.


RECORDINGS
Herbie Nichols: The Complete Blue Note Recordings (1955-6) (Blue Note), 3 Discs.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Spellman, A.B., Four Lives in the Bebop Business, 1966, Limelight paperback
Davis, Francis, “The Mystery of Herbie Nichols” from Outcats: Jazz Composers, Instrumentalists and Singers, 1990, Oxford University Press.