Pianist Herbie Nichols was there at the beginning of Bebop. However, he shied away from that scene and in the '40s and '50s spent most of his time playing Dixieland and Swing. Be that as it may, his compositions, as seen in the few recordings made in the '50s, were intelligent and original, borrowing from his Swing and Dixieland influences with a nodding acquaintance to Satie in the mix. Unfortunately, Nichols became disenchanted with the music scene and dropped out of site before dying of Leukemia in 1963. He might have slipped into obscurity, known only to those who relish in the hidden corners of jazz, were it not for a group of musicians who have dedicated themselves to remembering and recording Nichols' music.
The Herbie Nichols Project is a part of the Jazz Composer's Collective in New York and was formed by pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Matt Wilson. They have assembled sidemen who not only can play but feel the spirit of Nichols' music. They throw themselves into the task of interpreting complex and challenging tunes, making them feel like charts whose ink is still wet on the page. Players like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, trumpeter Ron Horton and bassist Ben Allison, known for their progressive approach to jazz, move smoothly through music written before many of them were born. This is not "smooth" jazz, or even "gentle" jazz. It's music to stretch your ears and make you aware of the possibility that "fusion" came about long before Miles Davis. It's a different kind of fusion, to be sure, but it's a project well worth checking out.