By Hrayr Attarian
Chit-chatting with Herbie
Lucas Gillan – drums
Quentin Coaxum – trumpet
Jim Schram – tenor saxophone
Dan Thatcher – bass
The year 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of pianist Herbie Nichols’ birth. In celebration of this, Chicago drummer Lucas Gillan leads his piano-less quartet on a tribute album Chit-Chatting with Herbie. On it Gillan reinterprets Nichols’ 1956 album on the Blue Note label Herbie Nichols Trio.
Criminally under-appreciated Nichols was an original improviser and composer with a style that was to the left of pianist Thelonious Monk. Nichols utilized varying meters and angular rhythms in his pieces and, thus, he created a music that was simultaneously cerebral and emotive. Alas, he only became recognized and championed by both critics and musicians posthumously.
Gillan and his side men do justice to the brilliance and uniqueness of the material. The boppish “Spinning Song” for instance is a complex group performance that contains clever and intriguing “twists and turns”. Saxophonist Jim Schram blows a plaintive and raw tenor that contrast with trumpeter Quentin Coaxum’s cool, burnished tones as Gillan and bassist Dan Thatcher lay down restless and percolating vamps. The stimulating four-way exchanges refreshingly blur the lines between the spontaneous and the pre-written.
Equally captivating is “Chit Chatting” that opens with a whimsical collective dissonance. Schram’s pops, Coaxum’s wails, Gillan’s clatter and Thatcher’s thumps coalesce into an effervescent, Latin tinged tune that is energetic and riotous. Schram takes a passionate and lithe solo filled with delightful vibrato.
The exuberant “House Party” is the longest track on the album and the most colorful. Eerie bass and rumbling drums lead to the intersection of agile bass lines and long, languid notes from the horns. Coaxum takes center stage with a brilliant and intricate improvisation while Thatcher and Schram engage in a crisp dialogue.
Chit-chatting with Herbie is a timely and brilliant release that simultaneously highlights the work of an ingenious and unrecognized artist and stands on its own as a provocative and satisfying recording. Gillan has successfully maintained Nichols’s artistic spirit while imbuing the music with his own individuality and style.