While far from unknown, sax player Jimmy Heath has had a low profile relative to the excellence and consistency of his writing and playing. This compilation helps correct that imbalance by spotlighting the seminal hard bopper's sessions recorded for Riverside between 1959 and 1964. The tracks cover small and medium group settings. Seven are Heath originals that highlight his direct, swinging, sophisticated, style. The arrangements are also Heath's. The pieces for septet and nonet call to mind the Dizzy Gillespie band from this era. The quintet numbers are more in a Horace Silver vein. The arrangements that include French horn and tuba tend to be more static than the rest. Trumpeters Nat Adderely, Freddie Hubbard, and Donald Byrd all have satisfying choruses, with Hubbard's being the most distinctive. Pianists Wynton Kelly, Cedar Walton, Harold Mabern and Herbie Hancock are also prominent and effective in soloist and accompanist roles. Heath's moments, though, stand out for their energy and intelligence. His attack is more purely boppish than John Coltrane's, but there are many similarities with that of his close friend, particularly with Trane's sound from his Atlantic period. Strong echoes of Dexter Gordon's balanced, authoritative, sonorous style are also evident.
As a compilation, Nice People passes the key test of generating interest in further exploration of Heath's Riverside sessions. A good starting point would be 1964's On the Trail, which is represented by only one track on Nice People -- a strong performance of "All the Things You Are," featuring luminous bop guitar from Kenny Burrell. On the Trail also includes the original version of Heath's "Gingerbread Boy," best known from the version on Miles Smiles.