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Pianist Herbie Nichols Gets Belated Recognition

November 08, 1987|LEONARD FEATHER

"THE COMPLETE BLUE NOTE RECORDINGS OF HERBIE NICHOLS." Mosaic MR5-118 (197 Strawberry Hill Ave., Stanford, Conn. 06902).

This five-record set, which includes 24 previously unissued items, offers a masterfully assembled reminder of a regrettably ignored artist.

Herbie Nichols (1919-1963) was an extraordinarily gifted composer/pianist whose chaotic career was marked by bad luck, indifferent jobs and only occasional recognition--mainly by the late Alfred Lion, who produced these 1955-56 sessions. Though friendly with Thelonious Monk, whose influence can be detected occasionally here, he was relegated to assignments accompanying singers, or to playing with Snub Mosley, Milt Larkins and various rhythm and blues bands.

A man of exceptional intelligence and a diverse artistry (several of his poems are included in the 24-page booklet accompanying the album), Nichols developed a technique that enabled him to express ideas different from those of his contemporaries. With the exception of George Gershwin's "Mine," everything in this set is an original Nichols composition. He is accompanied by Al McKibbon or Teddy Kotick on bass, and by Art Blakey or Max Roach on drums.

Some of the titles give a hint of the man's scope, his adventurous mind and his humor: "Cro-Magnon Nights," "2300 Skiddoo," "Riff Primitif," "Blue Chopsticks," "Lady Sings the Blues." This last became his only well-known piece; Billie Holiday set lyrics to it and recorded it.

Michael Cuscuna, who produced the reissue, wrote some of the notes, though there are several pieces by Nichols himself (his original liner commentaries as well as a magazine article) and lengthy explanations by the trombonist Roswell Rudd, a close friend and admirer, dealing with every aspect of Nichols' work: dynamics, melody, rhythm, harmony, form, improvisation.

The booklet, profusely illustrated, is an extremely valuable adjunct and will help the neophyte listener toward a better appreciation of Nichols' genius. Cuscuna deserves special credit for putting this package together.

Intrigued by the entire world of music but particularly by Ellington, Tatum, Villa-Lobos and Bartok, Nichols brought to his work a rare and fascinating spirituality. Mosaic Records, again in the forefront as a purveyor of supposedly "uncommercial" but invariably valuable music, has printed this album in a limited edition of 7,500 copies. It rates an unqualified 5 stars.

"NET MAN." Charnett Moffett. Blue Note 46993. Barely out of his teens, Moffett is the latest addition to a gifted family, some of whose members show up here and there in the album: father Charles Sr. on drums, brothers Charles Jr. on tenor sax and Codaryl (Cody) Moffett on percussion.

Playing acoustic and electric bass, sometimes overdubbing as on the sinister opening track "Mizzom," young Charnett is best represented when swinging in straight 4/4 time, as he does here in the company of Michael Brecker and Kenny Drew Jr. (the latter another second-generation jazzman) on "Swing Bass," and particularly on "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise," in which he hits the ground running and never stops.

Guitarist Stanley Jordan joins up for "The Dance," one of the six Moffett originals. The West Indian flavor is appealing, as is the church-like geniality of "One Left Over," a duo number with Drew on synthesizers.

Moffett's agility both with a bow and pizzicato are well showcased in the closing cut, "For You," though the repetitious, slapping percussion effects are a detriment. "Mona Lisa" suffers from too much mushy, pseudo-orchestral synth work. The title tune has a heavy rockish backbeat that seems a little out of place. In general, however, this marks an auspicious debut for a youngster who, at 16, was already making a name for himself with Wynton Marsalis. 4 stars.

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