A Provence-raised Frenchman who graduated in philosophy before becoming a jazz musician, bassist Clovis Nicolas reestablished himself as a busy sideman in Paris before moving to New York in 2002. The expat enrolled at Julliard to study with bassists Ron Carter and Ben Wolfe and hit the scene playing gigs with guitarist Peter Bernstein and saxophonist Harry Allen, and later with Brad Mehldau, Branford Marsalis and Dee Dee Bridgewater. That experience pays dividends on Nicolas’ debut recording, Nine Stories, an immensely appealing date with a tight, swinging sextet of up-and-coming players. Nicolas has obviously learned that listening is the most important quality a jazz musician can have. While listening to his five in-the-tradition originals and the reworking of four classic tunes, I hear a leader whose perceptive playing is part of the overall sound of the band rather than a cat overemphasizing his bass above everyone else in the mix. That discipline is Nicolas’ strong suit and his arrangements reveal a thoughtful musician at ease with mixing classic jazz sounds with modern contours.
Every tune has its own flavor and story to tell, but the standouts include “Pisces,” a foot-tapping original with a fleet frontline and signature Blue Note style, and Sonny Rollin’s “The Bridge,” a tune tagged with a wonderfully tuneful bass solo. Clovis makes good use of counterpoint (the horns and guitar on “Tom’s Number,” named for Tom Harrell) and creates a robust melody for his horns on “Mothers and Fathers” and provides trumpeter Riley Mulherkar and pianist Tadataka Unno with their best solos.
Of particular merit, Nicolas has found something new to say on the standards “You And The Night And The Music” and “Sweet Lorraine.” Like his teacher, Ron Carter – who apparently took a shine to his student and contributed the album’s liner notes – Nicolas makes each of these stories his own. The former is built over a fast tempo with a sparkling piano solo and a groove that Nicolas gets tight and right while the closer is a duo piece arranged for bass and guitar featuring guitarist Alex Wintz. It’s an impressive coda for an album that properly introduces Clovis as a powerful new voice on bass. (9 tracks; 53 minutes)