The Herbie Nichols Project

Strange City

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For its third release, the Herbie Nichols Project moves to Palmetto Records and adds trombonist Wycliffe Gordon to what was previously a sextet. Only three tracks feature the full band, however. More so than on its previous outings, the group crafts a differently orchestrated universe for each track -- a production strategy that highlights the collaborative nature of the enterprise and gives everyone multiple moments in the spotlight. With only two exceptions, these compositions were never recorded by Nichols himself. In a sense, then, the band is flying blind, pooling its imaginative resources in order to make the music a reality. Varying the ensemble configurations therefore makes a lot more sense than having the full band blow through every tune. It also coaxes stunning performances from the band members. Pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Ben Allison, the group's co-founders, duet beautifully on "Change of Season." Trumpeter Ron Horton is featured in a quartet setting on "Enrapture," "Strange City," and "Shuffle Montgomery." Kimbrough plays with fiery elegance on the trio cut "Karna Kangi." Michael Blake soars on soprano sax during "Moments Magical" and "The Happenings," and he trades incisive solo statements with tenor saxophonist Ted Nash on "Delights." And in the album's most unconventional matchup, trombonist Gordon, tenor man Nash, and drummer Matt Wilson have a go at the whimsical "Blue Shout." Clearly, hard work was done in fleshing out these arrangements, and yet the session is suffused with an offhanded sense of play and freedom.

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