Except for "Shuffle Montgomery," the pieces on Strange City are among 30 Herbie Nichols compositions never recorded by the pianist or anyone else. Trumpeter Ron Horton found them in the archives of the Library of Congress. They are significant additions to the generally known output of a quiet enigma who is becoming more famous nearly 39 years after his death than he was in life.
Horton, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Allison, saxophonists Ted Nash and Michael Blake, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and drummer Matt Wilson are the Herbie Nichols Project. Nichols' most consistent quality as a composer was his unconventionality. The Project players observe his principles of harmonic adventurism and surprise not only in their arrangements of his pieces, but also in their improvisations. Cases in point: Horton, Kimbrough and Allison's work on "Strange City," with its metric challenges and unexpected chordal turns; Gordon and Nash, accompanied only by Wilson's drums, managing to avoid gutbucket cliches in the gutbucket "Blues Shout"; the ensemble's lunging and loping on "Some Wandering Bushmen"; Nash's imaginative tenor solo on the same piece; the disciplined freedom in "Shuffle Montgomery."
In a desert of sound-alike New York young lions recordings, the Herbie Nichols Project's interpretations of these "new" tunes offers refreshment.