Marty Krystall, Plays Herbie Nichols (K2B2 3469)


This record is somewhat of a perfect storm for a bleeding heart like me. It features the compositions of neglected composer Herbie Nichols, whose life was cut short by leukemia before fame really came his way. It’s on a very independent label, which, according to Google Maps, is headquartered in somebody’s house. It was recorded directly to 2-track on a very expensive microphone. And it closes with “Suite from Carmen” arranged by Marty Krystall as a tribute to Nichols. What’s not to like?

Honestly, not much. The playing is at a high level, especially by the drummer, Barry Saperstein who fills the space with a hard-driving busy pulse, which, thanks to the Neumann USM-69, includes a visceral punch. Krystall, who plays tenor, soprano, and bass clarinet, is a player who is most interesting when he finds a clever phrase and carries it through the changes while daring Saperstein to push him somewhere else. The tunes are labyrinthine and quirky. Nichols’s writing is somewhat similar to Monk’s, but Nichols seems to leave more space for the rest of the band to participate in the heads, and the AllMusic guide lists Bartók and West Indian folk music as influences. I might not be sophisticated enough to pick that up, but the tunes are great fun. They will, with the time necessary for such cerebral compositions, get in your head.

The disc is not without its problems, however. The “Suite from Carmen” is an adventurous arrangement that steals the show. Perhaps the piece is more to my style than Nichols’s compositions. I find this the most compelling piece, and Krystall’s playing is best here, when he isn’t forced to fall back on bop conventions. The other caveat I have is with the sound, the instruments that do come in clear come in wonderfully. As they should with this type of set up. But, I think a little more attention needs to be paid to the violin and piano sound. They are both very distant in the recording, and with the philosophy behind the technique, nothing can be done with that after the recording is made. I think those problems needed to be dealt with in sound check. Perhaps they were, and this was the best outcome possible. If that is true, I would remove this quibble, as I admire the independent spirit and obvious dedication to this project. It is not often that one can be introduced to two first-class musicians on one recording, but Plays Herbie Nichols should promote wider exposure of both its leader and its subject. Two good things in my book. (This recording can be purchased directly from K2B2, or from Cadence)

3 Responses to “Marty Krystall, Plays Herbie Nichols (K2B2 3469)”

  1. BFlat Harmonic Says:

    Thanks for your review. There is little on Krystall’s music and so I appreciate you taking time to add something from your personal experience. I always think it helps for reviewers to let their readers know whether they are or are not involved in the art they are reviewing. If a nuclear physicist, for example, is reviewing physicist’s writings, then it’s significant to tell readers. If the reviewer is broom salesman that would be important too.

    Most people reviewing music either don’t play themselves, did once and gave it up, or wished they did. All of those are fine of course, and it remains a material fact that would be of interest to most readers and deepen what the reviewer has to say. Just a comment that could strengthen future reviews. Hope you take it positively. Adios.

  2. avantfront Says:

    Thanks for your comment. I have added some personal information on my “About” page. I assure you that my voice is still independent, but we all come with some context. Thanks.

  3. rob brannon Says:

    Hi Marty is a awsome musican,his style is unique,maybe he will see this and contact me,

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