Oh...if these sessions could have only been issued in separate long forms with the bands that are included. Nica's Tempo comprises six tracks with Gigi Gryce's groundbreaking big band, and another four ostensibly as a member of the Thelonious Monk quartet, all from 1955. Each band showcases the estimable compositional and arranging genius of Gryce, as well as his unique sound on the alto saxophone. In this CD format, the music serves a purpose in displaying Gryce's many talents, but ultimately leaves the listener wanting more. What the orchestra tracks offer in terms of an advanced concept paired with extraordinary musicianship is indisputably brilliant. The combination of Gryce with Monk is unparalleled in another way, the brief but fruitful joining of jazz masters that helped both of them grow, while attaining a symbiosis that Monk only reached briefly with Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and later in extensia with Charlie Rouse. Gryce is perfectly situated in his element, able to not only exploit the individualism of his bandmates, but play his slightly tart alto sax in a manner that very few have ever imagined. His shining charts emphasize lower octave tones by baritone saxes, trombones, French horns, tuba, the lone trumpet of Art Farmer, and no extra woodwinds. This larger band, averaging ten pieces, is influenced by Duke Ellington during the fully flowered ballad "In a Meditating Mood," or traditional Irish music on the short and sweet, perfectly layered, bluesy swinger "Kerry Dance." Dizzy Gillespie's complex bop visage is present for the nifty, sub-toned, dynamically controlled in mezzo piano, hard surfaced and simmering "Smoke Signal," with clever meter switchings from 4/4, 3/4, or 2/4, while Bill Barber's tuba lurks underneath. The opener "Speculation" reflects its title, with the composer Horace Silver's piano solo intro nicely drawn out, merging into warm simple horn charts with off-minor flourishes -- a great jazz composition -- especially engaging considering this is an emerging Silver at age 27. Ernestine Anderson's Sarah Vaughan styled dusky voice is featured in slight echoplex production on the all-time classic "Social Call" about a left behind lover still hoping for a reconnect, while her confessional balladic rendition of (You'll Always Be) "The One I Love" is as passionate as any romantic love song ever. The Monk quartet tracks are as precious as can be, with the dynamite rhythm section of Percy Heath and Art Blakey really on top of it. The pianist is happy to hand the spotlight to Gryce on selections made more famous later on by Herbie Nichols or the Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd bands. He's comfortably animated during "Shuffle Boil" cutting loose with flurries of notes, using staccato and staggered phrases for "Brake's Sake," and traverses the treacherous, slippery melody of "Gallop's Gallop" as if it had no degree of difficulty. Gryce's Nica's Tempo concludes in off-minor and obtuse angles as Monk liked it, with Heath and Blakey swinging expertly as only they could. These performances are nothing short of flawless, and though one might wish for additional tracks or outtakes, this album remains highly recommended with no reservation, and one for the ages.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos