Selection: House Party Starting (Nichols)
Misha Mengelberg (p) Steve Lacy (ss) George Lewis (trb) Arjen Gorter (mis-spelt Harjen on cover) (b) Han Bennink (d) recorded July 3 & 3, 1984 at Barigozzi Studio, Milan, Italy, engineer Giancarlo Barigozzi, engineer [Mastering] Gennaro Carone.
A recording dedicated to revival and reinterpretation of one of the most under-rated and least well-known composer and pianist of Fifties jazz, Herbie Nichols. Perhaps not as quirky as Monk but a kindred spirit, and an original in his own right. His recorded output is depressingly small and Mengelberg has done us a great service in bringing his work to the fore, in this remarkable reworking.
What distinguishes this recording is the fusion of Lacy’s soprano sax, in the upper register – the right hand, with Lewis’s trombone in the bass register – the left hand, expanding Melgenberg into what was Nichols piano part, reinvented and shared between the three instruments. There would be little point in Mengelberg merely emulating Nichols, as we already have the original Nichols – what could he add? Nichol’s maddeningly catchy tunes are affectionately delivered, with superior recording technology and musicians with a passion for his work.
Original recording: House Party Starting (Nichols, 1955)
Herbie Nichols (p) Al McKibbon (b) Max Roach (d) recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, August 1, 1955 – Blue Note BLP 1519.
Monk-like phrasing, not quite as impish as Monk but in total command of the performance.
Nichols discography runs as leader from 1955 to 1957, and that’s it. A rather small box-set, the complete recorded works of this man is lamentably small, fits on one CD. Thus Mengelberg does a great service in reviving his compositions in a sensitive “third stream” rendition.
Compare-the-Interpretation, with esteemed musicologist Dimitri-Shostakovich von Meerkat PhD, LJC critic in residence.
Mine Gott, aren’t zey both great?! Zat Herby Nicols iz genius! And ze reconstruction by Mangleburger, Lazy und Louis is spirited and beautiful in its own right, despite needing two more players than Nichols. (Am I allowed to mention staffing costs on zis blog? How many musicologists does it take to change light bulb, hah? He he he. My usual review fee, I take cash, cheque or Paypal)
Vinyl: Soul Note SN 1104
A nice work of engineering and pressing on the pretty dependable quality Soul Note label.
Original: Blue Note BLP 1519 Herbie Nichols Trio (1956)
The best affordable copy I have come up with is a Liberty “first reissue” from 1966, with all the trimmings of Van Gelder mastering and metalwork, RVG hand -etched initials, 9M, but no “ear” hence pressed in 1966 by Liberty’s newly acquired New York plant, All Disc, Roselle New Jersey.
The cheeky label says 767 Lexington Ave, no inc no R, but the vinyl say no ear, not deep groove, not the Original press. If any confirmation were needed, the original Blue Note inner sleeve says “27 Years” – 1966 inventory from stock. Except for First Pressing Fundementalists, this is not a reason to dismiss these “earless imposters”. The audio quality is up there with the original, sourced from the RVG master, and critically, ten years less wear and tear in the days of radiogram heavy tonearms and worn needles.
My initial copies of BLP 1519 were reissues – a Division of United Artists press (circa 1970) , and a French Pathe Marconi (1983). Both transfers, by house engineers at the time, lack the vitality of the RVG master, and I blame this for my initial lack of enthusiasm for Nichols. The late Seventies Blue Note two-fer The Third World (LA 485-H2) struck me as a similarly lacklustre production. Could be the 1955 tapes had not worn well, but Van Gelder’s magic touch really does make a difference.
The Soul Note liner notes are an original offering by critic and jazz enthusiast A B Spellman. The original BLP 1519 liner notes are an autobiographical reflection by Nichols. Both are worth a read.
When Liberty acquired Blue Note, in the deal came the stock inventory of previously printed labels and covers. Hence Liberty’s first batch of reissues enjoyed “First Reissue” status, sporting original Blue Note labels and covers.
Not a “first pressing”, but a “first reissue“, if that term has any meaning in collecting nomenclature.
Tracking down a copy of the Mengelberg Soul Note was not easy. Soul Note are European recordings, not commonly found, and this copy came all the way from Paris, France from a French seller. It was the only vintage copy I could find at that moment
A word of warning. When last I looked Amazon had one copy on vinyl though when this vinyl dates from is open to conjecture. Is this a modern digital transfer to vinyl? I would put more trust in vintage Soul Note from 1985 than contemporary pressings, which I have found often disappointing But you do get a bonus download. (Someone told me vinyl sales are up because many people who don’t have a record player buy the vinyl plus download code for vinyl’s superior artwork – but its the download they listen to. May be one day they will get it.)
However, whatever medium you prefer to listen to, the Mengelberg record is a must. I must hat-tip to the posters here who pointed it out to me – you know who you are. It has also fired up my enthusiasm for Herbie Nichols, an artist who I misjudged first time around. Fortunately, collecting his entire works will not dent your credit limit, though that original Lexington might.