May 2007

Marty Krystall
Plays Herbie Nichols
K2B2 Records

While the repertoires of a few select past masters get repeated exposure, Herbie Nichols is saluted by only a select few devotees. One would think that, four decades after his death, the pianist’s idiosyncratic take on melody and harmony would finally be embraced by a greater number of musicians and historians. But until then, tenor saxophonist Marty Krystall serves a more than capable interpreter of the Nichols book.

He first played Nichols’ music with bassist Buell Neidlinger, who learned it directly from the pianist. Trumpeter Hugh Schick, a participant in a Neidlinger’s Nichols salute with Krystall, switches to piano for this album. He responds to the daunting task with a bright attack that emphasizes the boppish quality of the writing without sacrificing its signature elements. Krystall, who switches to bass clarinet and soprano sax on a few tracks, also sounds genuinely excited as he blends modern growls and fast lines with his melodic licks. Violinist Brenton Banks adds a surprising texture to most of the tracks that frequently sounds like an additional reed.

The final track breaks with the program: “Suite From Carmen,” finds Schick back on trumpet and Banks on piano for a take on Georges Bizet’s masterpiece that has as much to do with inspired free blowing as opera.

Originally published in May 2007

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