When this chamber-jazz trio album was recorded in 2013, it was intended as a tribute to one man: pianist Herbie Nichols, who died (in 1963, age 44, of leukemia) decades before his idiosyncratic writing style was appreciated by a wide audience. Just before its belated release, the album was dedicated to a second, newly departed musician: trombonist Roswell Rudd, who played a crucial role in bringing Nichols’ many unrecorded compositions to light in the early 21st century. Sadly, cellist/bassist Buell Neidlinger’s death in March of 2018 now makes The Happenings a memorial to three late jazz greats.
A fine memorial it is, too—and it should be emphasized that little in the music itself could be called sad. Indeed, a joyful vivacity characterizes all nine tracks, even in the most sensitive moments. The two takes of the delicate waltz “Another Friend” that open and close the album are a case in point. Both are duets between Howard Alden, on seven-string archtop guitar, and Neidlinger, on cello. While Alden revels in the contours of Nichols’ chord progression, Neidlinger takes clear delight in how those chords call forth the sophisticated swoop of the melody. Although their respective approaches to the tune’s features change subtly from one version to the next, an air of blissful romanticism pervades both.
Besides “Another Friend,” the most immediately likable selections here are the slinky title track, reminiscent of (but predating) Henry Mancini’s famous theme to The Pink Panther, and “Old 52nd Street Rag,” in which Neidlinger’s arco backing chug prompts a buoyant bass clarinet solo from Marty Krystall. The second half of the album, for much of which Krystall switches to flute, gets thornier harmonically but never loses its warm good humor. Nichols and Rudd would be pleased, I’d wager, along with just about anyone else.
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