CD Review: Simon Nabatov - Spinning Songs of Herbie Nichols



Simon Nabatov - Spinning Songs of Herbie Nichols
(Leo CD LR 632. CD Review by Chris Parker)


Stuart Broomer’s extensive, thorough and erudite liner notes for this release describe the attractions of the work of pianist/composer Herbie Nichols (1919–63) as ‘original lyricism and a tremendous joy’, courtesy of their ‘bright explosions of splashing chords, sly rhythms, percussive complexity, expansive forms’; anyone who’s encountered the playing of Simon Nabatov will immediately understand just how suitable a project this album – eight Nichols tunes reinterpreted by the Muscovite pianist – is.

Like Nichols (who worked in Dixieland bands as well as recording a series of highly original sides for the Blue Note and Bethlehem labels in the 1950s), Nabatov has worked in a wide variety of jazz contexts, from swing bands to freely improvising settings, and his playing is succinctly summed up by Richard Cook thus: ‘[his] solid knowledge of 20th-century piano music sometimes crowds a technique which could stand with Tatum and Taylor, but he is working his way through some absorbing ideas’.

Ideas were meat and drink to Nichols (jazz was his second choice; he initially desired ‘to become a Prokofiev’ and created ‘third stream music’ before the phrase was coined), so Nabatov’s approach brings out all Nichols’s eccentricity, subtlety and sheer intellectual exuberance; he himself confesses to the desire ‘to add a bit more, assuming the pre-existing knowledge of the music, so that I could feel free to dispense with the straight academic approach and let my imagination run wild’.

This he does throughout this absorbing (and at at times downright exhilarating) album, whether he’s adding his own playful irreverence to ‘Blue Chopsticks’ or exploring the considerable technical subtleties of ‘The Third World’. There is, too, a neat circle involved here: Nichols was a great fan of Russian music, and Nabatov clearly reciprocates this admiration on all eight tracks of this rousing, richly varied and deeply felt album.

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